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Theater Review: "A Christmas Carol"

David McBean, Tom Stephenson
Photo credit:
Ken Jacques

Some people have to be scared into being good. Come to think of it, maybe all of us do, but at any rate Ebenezer Scrooge is definitely in that category. Like the Grinch, his heart was two sizes too small.

Scrooge’s heart started to shrink years ago when as a boy he was left all alone at his boarding school for the holidays.

Even his first job, as a clerk for jolly old Fezziwig (at whose Christmas party he met the lovely Belle) didn’t change the pattern set years before, and after Belle leaves him to the pursuit of his real love – money – he quickly becomes the old miser we meet at the beginning of the story: a man with wads of cash but no joy.

Now he sits in his place of business, bah-humbugging at the carolers and ladies collecting for the poor and everyone who dares to shout “Merry Christmas!” at him.

He even begrudges clerk Bob Cratchit enough coal to keep his hands from getting numb in the December cold.

It will take some serious ghost visitation to change this old grouch’s heart.

There are way and ways of telling the old familiar Dickens “A Christmas Carol,” but for my money Cygnet Theatre’s Sean Murray has hit on the best one.

A few years ago he made it into a musical, with original music and new lyrics to familiar carols by Billy Thompson. He found a top-notch cast, simplified staging so no time is wasted in scene changes et voilà! a terrific show.

The same cast is back: Tom Stephenson, arguably the best Scrooge ever, skulks around the stage glowering at all the holiday cheer. Everybody else plays an assortment of roles, and there are even several charming puppets operated by the cast.

Maggie Carney is a hoot as Scrooge’s put-upon housekeeper Mrs. Dilbur, Mrs. Cratchit and several smaller roles. 

The versatile Melissa Fernandes, always a joy to watch, plays one of the three (!) ghosts of Christmas Past, as well as Belle, Martha Cratchit, several young children and acts as puppeteer for the young Tiny Tim.

Patrick McBride plays Bob Cratchit with frozen-handed subservience as well as Scrooge’s open-hearted first boss Fezziwig, who throws a heck of a Christmas party.

It’s here that Billy Thompson’s delightful original song “Christmas Day”   comes in: “We gather together to party all night/and celebrate Xmas Day.”

McBride also plays the grasping businessman who buys some of Scrooge’s effects after he “dies” in the third, nightmarish part of his ghostly visitations.

Melinda Gilb delights as Mrs. Fezziwig and Belinda Cratchit, as well as playing part of the Christmas Past triumvirate and a few other roles.

Charles Evans, Jr. comes through with fine interpretations of Young Scrooge, Peter Cratchit and several other roles.

And David McBean. What a Marley, in that long, ragged robe dripping with chains he “forged in life” that have to be carried like the train of a wedding dress by two other actors.

He’s also imposing as the Ghost of Christmas Present and fine in other small roles.

This is a handsome production, with period costumes by Jeanne Reith and excellent lighting and sound design by Kyle Montgomery and Matt Lescault-Wood, respectively.

It’s not Christmas without “A Christmas Carol,” and this is the best one around.

The details

“A Christmas Carol” plays through December 24, 2016 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs Street in Old Town.

Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm; Wed., Dec. 7 at 10 am

Tickets: (619) 337-1525 or www.cygnettheatre.com