Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Dickens' tale of the miserly and selfish businessman Scrooge shows how visits from four ghosts, including his former business partner Marley, help him see the mistakes of his past and better understand the less fortunate people around him, especially his employee Bob Cratchit and Cratchit's young crippled son Tiny Tim. Will Scrooge be able to overcome the errors of his ways and find redemptionand in doing so help not only himself but those around him? Set on Christmas Eve, it is a wonderful story of how it is never too late to change and, consequently, make a positive impact on the lives of others as well.
Conceived by Madison Square Garden in 1994 as competition for Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular, and running for ten consecutive holiday seasons at the Garden, this adaptation, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and a book by Ahrens and Mike Ockrent, sticks close to Dickens' original story structure, incorporating many direct lines of dialogue from Dickens' novel. (Ironically, the Garden and Radio City Music Hall are now part of the same corporate family.) But there is also plenty of razzle dazzle added in, with elaborate dance sequences, in order to turn it into a full blown Broadway-style musical. Originally running just 90 minutes in its New York City production, in order to be able to play four performances on Saturdays and Sundays, it is a swift moving adaptation. And, while it is mainly through sung, with virtually non-stop music throughout and very few moments between songs for applause, it still manages to effectively incorporate all of the major characters and plot points from the book. ABT includes an intermission in their production at an appropriate moment in the plot so it fortunately doesn't stop the momentum of the show.
This is the third time ABT has presented this adaptation. Menken and Ahren's score is top notch, with interwoven melodies, themes and songs, several of which are reprised later at appropriate moments. There are several showstoppers as well as numerous numbers that incorporate the entire cast and propel the story forward. Ahren and Ockrent's book includes several comic moments that help balance, but never overpower, the emotional story of Scrooge's journey to redemption.
Not only is this adaptation great, by adhering to Dickens' tale as well as also being very entertaining, but ABT's creative aspects and cast are just about perfect, with James Rio giving a fine performance as the heartless Scrooge. Rio is effective showing the change and conflict between the stern, rigid, stubborn, and gruff man that Scrooge is at the beginning of the story with the joyful, reflective man he becomes once the ghosts work their magic on him. It is a well-rounded performance.
ABT's production has a very large cast, including numerous children, with many playing multiple parts. Jamie Parnell exudes warmth as Bob Cratchit, while Michael O'Brien is appropriately spooky as Marley's Ghost. As the other ghosts, Richard Koons is joyful, with a clear, booming voice as the Ghost of Christmas Present; Renèe Kathleen Koher makes for a fun, fairy-like Ghost of Christmas Past; and Laurie Trygg delivers some nice dance steps as the silent Ghost of Christmas Future. Nicholas Kuhn is sincere and charming as Scrooge's nephew Fred, and Andy Meyers and Eleonore Thomas are fun and warm as the Fezziwigs, with Thomas' voice exceptional.
Director Joseph Martinez does a very good job of staging the almost always moving scenes with a grace that allows the important moments to land. Kurtis W. Overby provides a decent amount of well thought out choreography throughout and the two work together seamlessly to ensure that the many large group numbers never seem muddy. Martinez also ensures that his cast's interpretations of these famous characters never lets the added humor of this adaptation trump the heart of Dickens' story. Paul Bridgeman's original ABT set design, adapted by Michaela Lynne Stein, features a large center piece that rotates and two side pieces that open to quickly and effectively represent the many scenes in the show. The exquisite costume designs by Martha Clarke, with additional designs by Lottie Dixon and Amanda Gran's wig designs, create some stunning effects most especially for Marley, his fellow ghosts, and the stone angels in the cemetery scene. Since the score is virtually non-stop, having a great music director is key and Mark 4Man provides his usual superb direction. The sound design by Will Pickens is clear and rich and includes superb echo effects for Marley and the other ghosts while the lighting design by Tim Monson achieves some lush effects, especially in the many nighttime scenes, with deep purples and blues and an abundance of shadows that evocatively paint the stage.
There have been many adaptations of A Christmas Carol, yet I doubt any achieve the result of this musical version, which wisely adds humor and several showstopping songs to elevate the tale of Scrooge in to a big, brassy Broadway musical. While purists may have a problem with some of the changes, it is definitely an entertaining and memorable musical version of Dickens' story. With impressive creative elements that include some great special effects, a wonderful cast that does justice to Dickens' characters, and clear, well thought out direction and choreography, ABT's A Christmas Carol is a wonderful presentation of this magical adaptation of the beloved story and the perfect kick-off to the holiday season.
A Christmas Carol runs through December 24th, 2015, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.
Music by Alan Menken
+ Denotes Shared Role