SMITHFIELD — It’s that time of year again, when all the lists, shopping, baking, and stress are crammed tightly into one month, and I ask myself the question posed by Ebenezer Scrooge, “What’s Christmas but a time for finding yourself a year older and not a day richer?” Like Scrooge’s nephew Fred, I feel that Christmas time does me good, but only when I take time away from all of the things that scream for my attention and let myself relax in reflection of what the season is really about. The production, A Christmas Carol: The Musical, by Four Seasons Theatre Company gives time to really contemplate the spirit of the season and why it is important to let that spirit into our hearts every year.
The Charles Dickens classic, first published in 1843, has been adapted for film, television, and stage countless times. Muppets tried it, Mickey Mouse turned his ears to the tale, even Jim Carrey voiced the animated film. This version of the classic tale premiered in 1994 with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Mike Ockrent and Ahrens. I personally like this musical better than other versions, because it stays close to Dickens’ original story. It does add a bit to Scrooge’s backstory pulled from Dickens’ own life, but it still holds true to the spirit of the story.
Four Season’s director Kody Rash does an excellent job using the space at the Sky View High School for the large group numbers as well as the more intimate moments of the play. The scene is set perfectly before the show even begins with set design by Lineset Design and Fabrication that looks like a storybook pop-out of Dicken’s England of the 1870s with warm candle lights flickering and a beautiful red door on stage right that reveals its symbolism through the show.
Any production of A Christmas Carol will sink or swim based on the performance of Ebenezer Scrooge, in this version played by Stanton Allen. It is critical that the actor portrays the full extent of how lost Scrooge’s soul is and the painful transformation for his redemption. Allen does an excellent job with this task. Scrooge’s fury as he barks at those who wish him a Merry Christmas at the beginning of the show was intense. Scrooge gruffly tells a widower that he and his children will be tossed out on the street on Christmas for failure to pay him. This moment was played to perfection by Allen who has a strong voice and performs with great feeling his song, “Nothing To Do With Me.”
The best part about this show is always the ghosts, the first of which is Marley’s Ghost played by Clifton Richards, who has the most excellent entrance as he starts the scene as a painting and then comes to life thanks to a powerful mix of lights, music, and blocking. One of the most memorable songs from this show is, “Link by Link,” sung by Marley with a chorus of Ghosts in fabulous various period costumes designed by Kody Rash. Richards has an extensive vocal range, hitting powerful bass notes that resonate through the space. I also enjoyed the addition of a fog machine to some of the ghost scenes; they use just the right amount so it is effective and adds to the ghostly mood.
Much more jovial is the Ghost of Christmas Past (Jon Rash) who arrives in a superb costume of soft golden hues and sings a lovely rendition of, “The Lights of Long Ago,” with a sonorous tenor. Scrooge is shepherded from one ghostly experience to another in his bed that magically roams around the stage and is an excellent vehicle for moving the story forward.
In the number, “Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball,” I loved the costumes and wigs for Mr. Fezziwig (John McVey) and Mrs. Fezziwig (Melissa Hamilton), and their scene had wonderful group choreography by AnnAlyse Chidester, Melisa Jensen, and Katie Packard that was executed well by the whole ensemble. Hamilton, in particular, has a powerful operatic soprano voice, and the whole number was upbeat and fun.
Aside from directing and costume design, Kody Rash also wears the mantle of playing the Ghost of Christmas Present and leads the ensemble well in his upbeat number, “Abundance and Charity.” As Scrooge looks back on his life, he watches his younger self (Jerry Olsen) and Emily (Tina Charmers), the girl he could have married, as they imagine what their life could be together in, “A Place Called Home.” The two had beautiful blending as they sang. Charmers was a little pitchy on the highest note, but gave a touching performance otherwise.
The character Fred (Mead Hansen) was a little underwhelming, but I really enjoyed Daven Ritchie’s version of Bob Cratchit as he sang, “You Mean More to Me,” with an adorable Tiny Tim (Phippen Tingey). The scene in the graveyard was powerful as he wept over Tiny Tim’s grave and really gave depth to the show.
This show offers a beautiful example of what musical theatre can offer a story. It has heartfelt duets and large chorus numbers with the entire ensemble jumping and singing. There are dance breaks that make your toes tap and songs that make you want to cry, but aside from the acting and singing, I must give praise to the technical elements of this show that Kody Rash has brought together so well. The set changes with the wagons are impressive and smooth. The flies drop in garlands that light up and feel magical. Snow falls on the actors and smoke swirls around them. The light design by Chase Cook was impressive and gave a really paranormal feel to, “Link by Link,” and the scene in the graveyard. The Dickens-era costume design by Kody Rash was phenomenal and cohesive for the full cast.
I have seen many versions of A Christmas Carol in my life on the stage and screen, and I recommend Four Seasons Theatre Company’s as a superb example of this yuletide tradition. Anyone who is not a humbug would enjoy this performance and leave filled with the Spirit of Christmas in their hearts.