SAINT GEORGE—For a story so well known and much beloved, one cannot help but feel as though they are experiencing the journey of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for the first time, every time. This journey through time, memories, and forewarnings that audience members and readers alike take with Ebenezer Scrooge, is timeless. With the theatrical book written and directed by Rhett Guter, as well as music and lyrics by Adam Record, this musical adaption proves to be more than worthy of the classic tale. At the Electric Theater, the children’s theatrical company, ‘Encore!’, beckons everyone to “Come in and know me better, man!”
Stepping into the house proper of the Electric Theater, the eye is drawn to the lamps that adorn the room. These lamps prove to be more than merely decorative in Randy Seeley’s set design as they are also incorporated into Dylan Frank’s lighting design. With sound direction by Kimball Willard, A Christmas Carol is a fun mix of recorded music tracks and foley artist sound effects.
One way I would describe the ‘Encore!’ rendition of this classic story would be, and I don’t mean this to be insulting in any way, to compare it to The Muppet Christmas Carol. That film has always been one of my favorite versions of the story. Replace the Muppets with a children’s chorus, and there you have it. Under the music direction of Abi Dutson, the children’s ensemble and solo numbers are impressive. That being said, let us dive into the talented cast that has only two adults and all other roles being played by children and teenagers.
In pioneering ‘A Show with a Pro’, ‘Encore!’ was able to recruit professional actor Corbin Allred, who portrayed the transformative curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge. Allred was very convincing in being the grumpy old man that everyone fears or tries to avoid in the very beginning as he frequently exclaims “Bah, humbug!”. Then as he travels through his life at various points with the Ghosts, the emotions that Ebenezer experiences anew are clear as day. It is not an easy thing to pick out just one prominent moment of Allred’s performance, but I will endeavor to with two moments. The first is Scrooge’s time with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which by itself is a wonder to behold and its first appearance renders Scrooge temporarily stunned. Scrooge watches in confusion and curiosity as so many people rejoice at the death of a particular person. The singers look pointedly at a single spot on the extension from the proscenium arch as they berate this unfortunate man. Scrooge looks back and forth between the singers and the spot but cannot see anyone there. And eventually he steps into the spot’s lighting, and unbeknownst to him, in the place of the dead Ebenezer Scrooge. The second moment I found most important to Allred’s Scrooge was the night after his visitations with the Ghosts. His transformation from the unhappy grumbler that everyone has known him to be into this kindhearted and charitable man is as unsettling for Scrooge as it is welcome. Allred’s performance of the song “A Change in My Heart” shows Scrooge’s slight discomfort but ultimately his acceptance to embrace his long buried and thought to be forgotten humanity.
The second adult in the cast is Adam Cheney, who plays Jacob Marley as well as the Ghost of Christmas Present. The juxtaposition of these characters and the successful transformation of one into the other is a testament to Cheney’s ability as an actor. The musical number “Heed My Warning”, in which Marley explains to Scrooge his sorry and lamentable state in the afterlife, and the cause of it was accompanied by five ghosts that carried the chains that Marley “forged in life.” While the chains were effective in this number to support the story and the lyrics, there were times when the lyrics of this powerful song were drowned out by the use of the chains in the choreography. On to his other character, the (literally) larger than life character, the Ghost of Christmas Present is every bit as jovial as Old Saint Nick, but in the form of a Christmas tree. His booming yet warm voice is a balm to the heartbreaking events of Ebenezer’s past which were presented by the Ghost of Christmas Past, beautifully played by
, and is a guiding factor in part of Ebenezer’s redemption arc.
As is the case in A Christmas Carol, there are a myriad of supporting characters that help the story, and Ebenezer, progress. Up first is the character who should never be excluded, the Narrator, Charles Dickens, played by Brayden Winslow. Always present in the story to guide the audience as well as to give some background knowledge, Winslow’s fun and yet masterful storyteller is what reminds me of The Muppets Christmas Carol the most. Like Gonzo in the film version. he fills in the details of the story. At Dickens’ side is his assistant, played by Charlie Stover, who passes as an ordinary patron and companion, until he is suddenly entered into the play as Tiny Tim. But an interesting part about Stover’s transition into the youngest Cratchit is that no one recognizes him as Tiny Tim until he dons the crutch and the classic Herringbone flat cap.
Aside from our two narrators, there is Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, played by Thomas Murray. Murray was the complete embodiment of Fred, in his jolly demeanor and attitude towards his humble and happy life. Now, what is A Christmas Carol without that lovely Cratchit family? Bob Cratchit is portrayed by Jonas Dickerson, who succeeds in displaying the character’s gratitude for the good and albeit meager life he leads with his spunky and loving wife Emily, played by Molly Pearson, at his side. The other two characters I will mention due to their incredible combination of acting and singing abilities lie with Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, those joyful employers of young adult Ebenezer, played respectively by Logan Marsh and Lilly Pearson. Now, I could go on about the other characters that I love so much in this story, but that would make this review longer than the production’s short run time.
My quips about this well-done production are few, but my main one is the lack of a song list in the playbill. Not only is a song list a good indication of where you are in the show, but it also makes it easier to reflect on the beautiful music after the show is over. The only reason I was able to find the titles to the few songs I referenced was due to my luck of the music director being at the show and the conversation we had about the music.
With the show being only one act, and the duration rounding out to be approximately 80 minutes, this musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol is one I suggest for the entire family to enjoy! I hope that ‘Encore!’ achieves their goal and makes this show a Christmas tradition in years to come.