Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
December 19, 2014
True to its title, singing is the focus of Cygnet Theatre’s new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” At times, Sean Murray’s version is near-operatic in structure; he takes Dickens’ phrases, from the various incarnations of the 1843 classic, and with the aid of composer Billy Thompson, puts the timeless words into melodies, some imposed on traditional English carols.
Add in puppetry (courtesy of Michael McKeon), old-fashioned stage magic, live sound-making by the cast (the storm is particularly effective), and a bit of dancing and slapstick and you’ve got something of a variety show. Even the decorated proscenium arch screams English Music Hall.
So, this “Christmas Carol” is funny and sprightly and seamless, floating by like a cloud on a rare, bright-skied British winter morning. But the light-as-a-snowflake approach does rob some of the gravitas from this ghost tale of redemption, with its seasonal reminder that, in our avaricious, consumerist world, “Mankind is our business.”
Though thoroughly entertaining, and skillfully rendered by a stellar, shape-shifting, multi-talented ensemble, this “Carol” will bring no tear to the eye, no lump to the throat. With its whiplash speed, what we gain in musicality, we lose in depth of character – and even plot points. I missed Scrooge’s sister, Fanny, and his nephew, Fred – and that ever-amusing parlor guessing game at his holiday party.
Tom Stephenson makes the old coot Ebenezer more likable than most. With his giant, graying mutton-chops, he manages to be avuncular even in the early scenes: quick to chuckle, and more willing than usual to follow the spirits and learn their lessons. David McBean is a standout as the spectral, enchained Marley and the beatific, benevolent Ghost of Christmas Present.
Personally, I prefer the darker leanings of the story, and the scary ones, that put a little fear into the hearts of even cynics and skeptics. But as a much-needed reminder, “A Christmas Carol” is a must-see every year, and this is as diverting and dexterous a production as you’re likely to encounter.
“A Christmas Carol” runs through December 28, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
©2014 PAT LAUNER