A Christmas Carol
The spirits haunt Ebenezer Scrooge again in this perennial favorite.
A Christmas Carol is perfect fare for the holidays. It captures the importance of giving, sharing with loved ones, and reevaluating past choices. A Noise Within's co-producing artistic director Geoff Elliott has created his own adaptation, which has been performed at the theater for the last six years. Geared toward youngsters, this version, co-directed by Geoff Elliott (who also stars) and his wife, co-producing artistic director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, has been streamlined to 90 minutes. This trimming unfortunately leaves the script a bit dry.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Elliott) hates Christmas and abhors charity of any kind, even to his devoted employee Bob Cratchit. He exclaims "bah humbug" to any cheer. The ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley (Jeremy Rabb), appears to Ebenezer to warn him that three spirits will visit in the coming days and if Scrooge does not learn and change his ways, he is doomed. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Deborah Strang) reminds him of past loves and a youthful exuberance that died when his heart grew cold. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Stephen Weingartner) reveals what his family and neighbors say about him behind his back. But the Ghost of Christmas Future horrifies the now enlightened man.
Elliott's book hits all the plot points, but for a children's play, it omits too much mirth and whimsy. The dialogue doesn't allow the imagination to flourish. The actors speak so quickly that much of the dialogue gets swallowed up. Original songs by Ego Plum do add conviviality to the proceedings, particularly a knee-slapping square dance during a flashback and a tender chorus song about generosity to conclude the show.
Visually, Elliott and Rodriguez-Elliott's work dazzles. The set by Jeanine A. Ringer seamlessly transforms drab offices and low-income housing into snow-covered streets of Christmas merriment. The costumes by Angela Balogh Calin are magical, including a frilly white gown for Strang and a towering cornucopia worn by Weingartner with every color imaginable on display. The effect of Marley's ghost hanging by cobweb-coated chains is quite eerie.
Elliot's performance of the stern Scrooge is commanding and sets the right tone, though he does melt Scrooge's heart a little too quickly. He appears on the road to decency once the Ghost of Christmas Past has spun her flashback webs. His quick about-face almost makes the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Future superfluous. Strang's Ghost of Christmas Past is a delight. She brings a nurturing comfort to the first spirit. Weingartner also enhances the second ghost's role with his impishness, which is quite impressive since he's enclosed in a 10-foot-tall costume. Frederick Stuart is an authoritative Narrator, guiding the audience through the story. Rafael Goldstein also stands out as Scrooge's exuberant nephew.
There is much to enjoy in A Noise Within's A Christmas Carol. The performances are professional, and the visual design is entrancing. Unfortunately, the script makes the evening seem a little like homework. For a show geared to a young audience, there was much joy still left untapped.