SMITHFIELD — There are certain traditions that truly make the holiday season. For me, it’s just not Christmas until Ralphy says, “Oh, Fuuuudge!,” Clark Griswold lights up his house, and I hear a poor little boy exclaim: “God bless us, everyone!” Four Seasons Theatre Company certainly delivered on the last of these with the adorable Adam Blomberg as Tiny Tim proclaiming the well-known line to ring in the spirit of the season.
There are many versions of the beloved Dickens story, A Christmas Carol. It is probably the most adapted book to movie or play in existence. Many of my generation grew up with Mickey or the Muppets when we were little and have seen many versions since then. With material so well known, it can be a challenge to still make the story feel fresh, but this production under the direction of AnnAlyse Chidester does well overall.
The book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens contains all the direct quotes from Dickens’s story that I want to hear, and it sticks to the story well while being enhanced by the wonderful score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Ahrens. The musical originally premiered in 1994 in Madison Square Garden and has also been adapted for television, but this performance was my first time experiencing this version of the beloved classic.
The lead role of Scrooge was played by Scott Hunsaker. Hunsaker has a smooth baritone voice and sings the part well, with the exception of some timing issues during Act I. I would have liked Scrooge to be even more of a crotchety curmudgeon at the beginning of the play, to show a greater transformation at the end. While there were some timing issues at the beginning of his performance, Hunsaker’s Scrooge grew on me as he continued through his trials.
As I mentioned, Scrooge was a little off in his timing at the beginning of the play, which was the case for some of the other actors as well, but the whole production has an excellent overall pace and has a strong ensemble. Scrooge is also portrayed as a boy by Ayden Kofoed with a beautiful song, “A Place Called Home,” which was sung beautifully by the young actor. The song was reprised later by John McVey playing Scrooge as a young man in love. This song and scene really struck my heart as they beautifully sing of what life should be about: love and family. Young Scrooge had a chance at love with Emily (Jessica Lewis), but he made money his priority instead. The young lovers’ song is so touching, and also tragic, as it is known that Scrooge will not take that path.
Walker McKenna plays a touching Bob Cratchit as the picture of domesticity Scrooge will never know. McKenna has a warm fatherly manner with Blomberg’s Tiny Tim, and McKenna touched my heart as he bent over the little boy’s future grave.
One of the most standout performers was Josh Hopkins as Jacob Marley. Marley’s song, “Link by Link,” was a wonderful storm of song and dance and costume design. Hopkins’s animated performance of the catchy song was superb alone and then was brilliantly joined by the host of other damned souls wearing ancient ghostly apparel and chains of their own. This number was probably my favorite number of the night.
By and large, the ensemble gives a stellar performance in both song and dance. I utterly enjoyed the performance last night, but I was even more impressed with technical elements of the production. The play is mounted at Skyview High School, and I was amazed by the set design by Daniel Rash and Nathan Allen. The proscenium stage looks like it is opening into a picturesque Dickens novel pop-out book. The set changes location with perfectly placed wagons and fly rails that slide walls in and out to smoothly switch the set from one location to another. I particularly enjoyed Scrooge’s counting-house at the back of the stage that pulls out to reveal the vast accumulation of wealth and papers that will bury both Marley and Scrooge left unchanged. In contrast, the front stage right has a red door that draws the eye and symbolizes the home and family that gives the season meaning.
The costume design by Kody Rash and Kim Rash was phenomenal. The Dickens-era costumes for the full cast were designed with great detail that translates powerfully on stage. The disparity between the rags of the poor people and the rich people was well done and gave depth to the show. The Spirits, in particular, were wonderful. I loved the transformation dress on the Ghost of Christmas Future, as well as the picture-perfect interpretation of Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Present. However, the design of the Ghost of Christmas Past was the absolute stand out design. It is filled with lights that shine and give symbolic meaning to the light of the memories the Ghost traverses. The costumes are all highlighted with the choreography of Director Chidester, which is engrossing as the large cast swirls about the stage in many big showstopping numbers.
Normally I would say that a show that has a fog machine, a snow machine, a tap dance number, a spectacle of bedazzling costumes, and huge scenery wagons is trying too hard to be too big and bold at the expense of heart, but during this time of year when everyone is trying a little harder and going over the top on everything, I think it works and portrays the spirit of the season. The script is a great musical adaptation, and Four Seasons Theatre Company superbly delivers on this yuletide tradition. Anyone who is not a humbug would enjoy this performance.