Regional Reviews: Phoenix
A Christmas Carol
If you need a plot refresher, the story follows the miserly and selfish businessman Scrooge who is visited at Christmas by four ghosts, including his former business partner Jacob Marley. Together, the quartet of ghosts help Scrooge see the mistakes of his past and make him see how to show compassion for the less fortunate people around him, including his employee Bob Cratchit and Cratchit's young crippled son Tiny Tim.
This musical version was originally produced at Madison Square Garden as competition for Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular and ran for 10 years. (And, full disclosure, I was the accountant for the first year the show ran. It's interesting to see this musical again, almost 30 years after working on it on a daily basis for a year, to take another look at it from a distance and long after being involved with the show to see what it does well and where it's slightly lacking.)
The score, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens is stellar. It's a nonstop cornucopia of crowd-pleasing, showstopping numbers as well as several rich and introspective ballads. The show is practically sung through and, since it was conceived as a 90 minute one-act show, it doesn't waste any time getting to the visits from the ghosts. (This production does include an intermission at an appropriate time in the story.) Mark Foreman's superb music direction excels with excellent vocals and harmonies from the large cast.
The book by Ahrens and Mike Ockrent sticks fairly close to Dickens' original story structure and both the lyrics and dialogue incorporate many lines of dialogue directly from his novel. However, Dickens purists may be slightly disappointed in how quickly the show runs through the scenes between Scrooge and Cratchit before the ghosts arrive, even though it does touch upon the most important aspects of those moments. Also, while all three ghost get big, splashy, musical numbers that are incredibly entertaining, some may find they, and some of the humor in the show, detract from the serious meaning of the story. Also, since Menken had just come off having Beauty and the Beast open on Broadway when this show premiered, the character of young Scrooge's love interest, Belle, was changed to Emily as it was thought it would be too similar to the main character from the other Menken show running in New York.
Fortunately, even with those few shortcomings, I believe this bright, colorful, and elaborate musical adaptation is still very worthwhile and Arizona Broadway Theatre doesn't make one false step in bringing it to the stage under Kurtis Overby's assured direction and an exceptional cast led by Jamie Michael Parnell as Scrooge.
Parnell is excellent as the heartless Scrooge, appropriately stubborn and rigid when we first meet him, then effectively showing the change in Scrooge by depicting the conflict between the stern, gruff, selfish and uncaring man to the loving, selfless, and joyful man he becomes. Parnell's singing voice is superb and his songs are infused with emotion and reflection.
Stephen Hohendorf is extremely warm and caring as Bob Cratchit and Michael O'Brien is strong and firm as the ghost of Jacob Marley. As the other ghosts, Renée Kathleen Koher is bright and playful as the pixyish Ghost of Christmas Past, Elliott Scott Smith is lively and joyful as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Laurie Trygg delivers some striking dance steps as the silent Ghost of Christmas Future. As Scrooge's nephew Fred, Nick Kuhn is caring and charming. O'Brien, Koher, Trygg, and Kuhn all played the same roles in ABT's last mounting of this show, and Parnell was Cratchit; it's nice to see so many of them return for this remount.
In smaller roles, Fatu Su'esu'e and Kat Gold are bright and energetic as the Fezziwigs, with both having strong singing voices. Trevor Squiers and Cassie Miller are great as Young Scrooge and Emily, and Brody Wurr is fun as Young Marley. The ensemble members play multiple parts and all do wonderful work, including the few younger children in the cast.
Overby's direction is smart and his staging is exceptional, as is the set design by Christian Fleming which includes a gorgeous backdrop of a London cityscape and multiple and large set pieces that are moved almost continually around the stage to quickly create the various locations in the story. The costume designs by Lottie Dixon are excellent. They are colorful, period perfect and very creative, including some superb designs for Marley, the other ghosts, and the stone angels in the cemetery. Bret Reese's lighting works very well, with the use of lush purples and blues for the nighttime scenes and bright colors for the scenes set during the day. The sound design by Jesse Worley is crisp and clear and also includes some excellent sound effects. Overby's assured direction combines with the impressive creative elements and the excellent choreography by Lauran Stanis to deliver many effective and memorable moments.
Probably just about everyone knows how A Christmas Carol ends, but the popularity of Dickens' tale proves that it never gets old. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of the family-friendly musical adaptation isn't just highly entertaining, big, colorful and bold; it's also full of life and beautifully gets to the heart of this classic tale and the emotional story of Scrooge's journey to redemption.
A Christmas Carol runs through December 29, 2022, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.azbroadway.org or call 623-776-8400.
Music by Alan Menken