CENTERVILLE — CenterPoint Legacy’s production of A Christmas Carol is a joyful introduction to the most wonderful time of the year.
The version of the timeless tale that CenterPoint chose to stage is a musical adaptation, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Alan Menken, and a script by Mike Ockrent and Ahrens. It was staged at Madison Square Garden from annually 1994 to 2003, and turned into a television movie by NBC in 2004. During that span, an impressive list of actors filled the roles, including Frank Langella, Tim Curry, Terrence Mann, Jason Alexander, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Kelsey Grammer.
CenterPoint’s production was directed by Jim Christian, with Chuck Gilmore in the starring role of mean ol’ Uncle Scrooge. Gilmore gave the strongest performance of Scrooge that I’ve seen on stage. Instead of presenting the miser as a caricature, Gilmore plays him a real, relateable human being. Gilmore’s restraint is admirable, and makes the character infinitely stronger. Gilmore presents a Scrooge that many people can see in themselves. Plus, his singing is fabulous. His line delivery is biting. Gilmore’s performance is one worth coming for.
Surrounding Scrooge is a bustling village of Dickensian characters. The street scenes are busy and exciting, and the actors displayed conviction and talent. The cast is full of good performances, including Jonathan Martineau as Tiny Tim and Kim Christy as the haunting Jacob Marley. Scenes of Scrooge’s extended family (played by Tyler Thompson and Christine Bernards), were also a high point of the show.
The take on the Ghost of Christmas Future (played by Morgan Western) was also a strength of the show. Instead of a being a mysterious mute bathed in light, Western’s ghost was a sprightly gothic dancer, leaping around the stage. I hadn’t seen that before, and the change was a welcome alteration to Charles Dickens‘s classic story.
The choreography by Jessica Merrill was strong, particularly in the show-stopping “Link by Link,” which featured a horde of ghouls and delivered a satisfying climax where Scrooge is tied up with chains like a maypole. I hadn’t seen that one before, either.
Props and costumes by Jacki Smith and Katie Rogel also boosted the show. The props were so perfect that I can’t imagine any way they could improve, and the costumes were positively dreamy. The set by Scott Van Dyke was appropriately towering and Londonesque. I enjoyed the Big Ben in the background that kept time with the play, and the harrowing red sky (by lighting designer Darren Maxfield) during Scrooge’s ultimate reckoning.
A few notes that might improve future performances. I didn’t feel that the Ghosts of Christmas Past or Present were working as well as they could be. The personality and character of the Past felt undefined, and Present was not nearly jolly enough. The singing was generally good, but there were noticeable pitch problems among the smaller roles, particularly in the small ensembles at the beginning of the night. The show would also probably be stronger if characters (particularly Mr. Cratchit) used their natural speaking voices instead of attempts at cockney.
There are tech squabbles, as well. The microphones frequently popped, and the rising of set pieces like a scrim and a swing was clunky and slow. Also, despite his otherwise shining performance, Gilmore’s movements were noticeably behind the prerecorded musical score several times.
But, oh what music it is! The music is familiar and wonderful. Like Gershwin and Bernstein, Menken his a national treasure for his ability to pair message with melodies. A Christmas Carol is filled with tearjerking winners, and audience members will have “Christmas Together,” “Nothing to Do With Me,” and “God Bless Us Everyone” in their heads for days after seeing this show.
A quick report on the printed program. I’m glad to inform you that of the 95 people in the two casts, a whopping 33 described themselves in their bios as being “excited” to be in this production. That’s a lot of excitement. 16 said they were “thrilled,” 3 were “happy” or “pleased,” 2 reported as being either “ecstatic,” “elated,” or “delighted,” and 1 was “grateful.” This is all tongue-in-cheek, but it does call attention to something I loved. In the midst of all the usual cookie-cuttery, ensemble member Savannah Rae Pike used her cast bio to do something different. Rather than sharing her emotions and a list of previous acting conquests, she shared a short, beautiful message: “This show teaches us how far love can reach. Hold your loved ones close this season and always. Merry Christmas.” Thank you, Savannah, for breaking the mold and letting the message of this great musical shine through you.
CenterPoint’s A Christmas Carol is a rewarding community production worth seeking out. I cried throughout it, and after leaving felt like doing good to every man, woman and child on the planet. How many shows can you say that about? Based on that alone, A Christmas Carol is among the best musicals ever staged. God bless you, Charles Dickens, for this inspired and inspiring story. And thank you, CenterPoint Legacy Theatre for this admirable production.
Content note: If this production was a movie, it would be rated PG. Scrooge swears a handful of times, and a scene of masquerading zombies might scare extremely sensitive little ones.