Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
A Christmas Carol
Everybody knows the story, so no need to go into the plot. The musical starts out promisingly, with a few insightful additions to the Dickens original. We see that Scrooge's father was sent to debtors' prison, with his last words to little Ebenezer being to save his pennies so the same doesn't happen to him. Three of the people Scrooge mistreats on the street early in the play show up later as the three ghosts, and Bob Cratchit soon materializes as Marley's ghost, leaving it an open question whether there is something supernatural going on or is Scrooge just having an extended and very vivid guilt-ridden dream.
The Marley ghost scene starts out eerily enough, with creepy projections of the ghost on the walls of Scrooge's door and bedroom. But then things kind of go off the rails. Marley appears decked out like a skeleton, and the music, instead of being foreboding, turns into what sounds like jaunty music from Fiddler on the Roof, a troupe of ghosts appears, and we get an ensemble dance number that's a "Thriller" knockoff. Gone is any sense of terror, which was one of the strong points of Dickens's story. How can Scrooge be scared straight from his addiction to money when he's watching a production number?
The Ghost of Christmas Past reminded me of Glinda the Good Witch. The Ghost of Christmas Present scene devolves into a tap dance number with the March of the Wooden Soldiers, ending with Scrooge taking his place in the kick line. The Ghost of Christmas Future scene, when Scrooge sees his own unattended funeral and his gravestone, should be the most horrifying of all, but instead we get a little dance number with the gravediggers and their shovels. The only dancing that makes any sense takes place at Fezziwig's Christmas party, but even that is overblown.
Who came up with this? Roger De Bris from The Producers? No, it was people who should have known better: Alan Menken (music) of Disney fame; Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), who has done a lot of Broadway shows; and Mike Ockrent (book), a director who had a lot of experience in London and New York. The only thing I can figure is that this show was originally presented by Radio City Entertainment, so its creators were forced to glitz it up and had to come up with something for the ensemble and dancers to do. Not the most artistically coherent decision.
Fortunately, the show gets back on track before the ending. Scrooge's Christmas morning transformation is one of the most joyous moments in all of literature, and this production does it so well that it almost makes you cry. The credit for this goes to the uniformly excellent performers and the top-notch production team. Myra Cochnar and Louis Giannini produced this lavish spectacle, Laurie Finnegan directs it with consummate professionalism, Dahl Delu produced a remarkable set, and Darby Fegan conducts a fine orchestra for a show that is almost completely sung through.
People who don't ordinarily get credit in reviews need to be singled out here. Costumes by Joseph Gurulé and LaRue Schultz, lighting by Daniel Chapman, and sound by Simon Welter are all perfect. Stage managers Maddie Barker and Mary Brosnan somehow keep the cast of 43 totally on cue. I rarely mention makeup artists (Angela Flores, Maria Earls, and Marilyn Lafer) or hair and wig artists (Kandy Thorn and Michele Cappel), and I'm sure I've never mentioned a child wrangler (Lana Melendres-Groves) before, but there would be no show without these talented people.
I can't praise Ryan Shepherd's performance as Scrooge highly enough. Although he's at least 20 years younger than Scrooge, he physically inhabits the character completely. He almost never leaves the stage during the 90-minute running time of this one-act show, but his energy does not flag. Jonathan Gallegos also does a fine job as Bob Cratchit and, although I felt sorry for him for having to do it, as Marley's ghost. The rest of the huge cast are too numerous to mention individually, but I will say that there is not a false note struck by any of them.
Although I think the handling of the ghost scenes is wrong-headed, I'm in awe of this production as a whole. The time and expense that went into getting it on stage must have been stupendous. Theatergoers who are not as jaded as I am, and especially children, should have a great time at this show.
A Christmas Carol, through Through December 9, 2018, by Landmark Musicals at the Rodey Theatre in the University of New Mexico Center for the Arts, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets are $22 to $26, available at the UNM box office, www.unmtickets.com, or 505-925-5858. For more information on Landmark Musicals, visit landmarkmusicals.org.