OGDEN — A Fairly Potter Christmas Carol is a Ziegfeld Theater tradition in Ogden. A parody that “borrows” (or as one character points out “we stole that too!”) from A Christmas Carol, The Grinch, Harry Potter, and many others, this musical offers original songs and story written by Rick Rea. It was unclear if this fun yearly tradition would be able to go on this year, because the Zig had remained mostly dark due to COVID-19. However, due to the creative thinking of debut director and long time actress at the Zig Becky Knowles, Fairly Potter was born again as Fairly Potter Puppet (Christmas) Carol. It was announced at the beginning of the production that Knowles had conceived of doing the show as a modified production with puppets and people (think Avenue Q but more family friendly) in order to maintain a smaller cast, safety for the actors, and still keep most of what the Zig audience had come to love over the years of the Fairly Potter story.
Having reviewed the show for several years, I can safely attest that the puppets actually made for an improvement that I hope will be maintained even if (please be when) COVID precautions are lifted from theatre-going limitations. For starters, the addition of puppets gave the set design, also by Knowles, the opportunity to have a bit more creativity than in years past. Scaling down the set to the size of the puppets added elements like more magic to the moving staircases, more fun to the use of windows, and interesting combinations with lighting design by Caleb Parry, like a clever use of chasing Christmas lights to show a character traveling.
The use of the puppets themselves allowed for cast members to play several characters, which was not necessarily new, with people such as Tim Behunin, an audience favorite, as Bagrid, Squirmtail, and my personal favorite, the Coke Polar Bear that had disappeared last year and happily returned this year. Caleb Parry returned as Bumblebore and others (I am sure the theme of ripping off the famous story but not exactly by using similar the names is becoming apparent), and the way Caleb Parry used the puppets to his advantage was, yes, magical. The only cast member to not wear a mask was the lead, Jerry Potter, played this year by Dylan Brinkman, and his lovely singing voice was soothing and comforting, making me happy to be in an audience chair.
Speaking of being in an audience, the Zig had followed many precautions. There was sanitizer at the door, a mask requirement, and they took our temperature as we walked in. A digital program was on the website, and no paper programs were provided. Groups were separated, and it looked as though the audience was at about 50% capacity.
Many of the creative elements I have enjoyed from the show in years past, including the original songs by Rea, are still there and still have the same charm. Music director Morgan Parry had the added difficulty of getting a smaller cast to sing and project through masks, and admittedly, it was something that was noticeably different than years past; however, the difference was minimal, and due to COVID-19, as a critic I am willing to let it slide. The harmonies were still fantastic, especially in the original songs that I enjoy the most, “It’s Almost Like Christmas,” “It’s Snowing,” and, “Wait Another Day.” In the last song mentioned, the three characters singing played by Kelsie Reynolds, Brecklyn Noble, and Keely Parry harmonize so well together, and I wish those three had more numbers to sing.
I must make note of Michael Reis as Professor Alan Rickman, because I almost thought they had raised Alan Rickman from the dead. Reis should consider a career in voice over work, because, Reis, you have that voice down my friend. I was highly impressed and a little frightened by how much Reis sounded like the beloved actor that I’m sure we all miss very much.
Usually the holiday season is full of theatrical event after theatrical event, but sadly, this pandemic has shuttered the doors of so many theaters and left our acting professionals and musicians out of work. It was wonderful to feel safe enough to walk into the Ziegfeld once again and watch their yearly tradition. We are all hanging on, hoping to find something jolly during the year. To keep in the spirit of “stealing” things: I feel like my heart that has shrunk during COVID times grew a few sizes when I was sitting in my audience chair.