Then the play begins, and we join the dream; Scrooge and us, together. We go on his journey but somehow it's our journey. As Scrooge confronts his past, present and future, all heading to his reclamation of the Christmas spirit, we follow along with him so thoroughly that by the time Tiny Tim utters the immortal phrase, "God bless us, everyone," we're wiping away joyful tears and are entirely ready for the previously-dreaded audience participation. We willingly sing "Jingle Bells" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" with enthusiasm and aplomb, because the world is still out there and we'll soon have to return to it. This is our one chance to take delight, as a diverse and unified audience, to savor a collective blissful moment of Zen. When we return to our lives, maybe our hearts are a little less dark. Maybe the wars will be brought to an end. Maybe the bitterness will recede. Maybe the money will finally come, enough to share, enough to help others. Maybe the promise of peace and love over fear will manifest, and magic, wonder, and imagination will light up the darkness.
If you've seen A Christmas Carol at the HIPP before, to be sure, you will see obligatory nods to the tradition. The odd Marilyn Wall-designed giant stuffed turkey prop used in most all the previous productions. It will be there. All the familiar characters appear. Ebenezer's tombstone will spin in the graveyard. The audience will roar approval in standing ovation. It always works, and that's why we return again and again. We're Scrooge, we're cold-hearted, angry, yet underneath it all we just want to love and be loved.
What truly impresses is the attention to detail. I'm told the director, Laura Shaktus, has recently been directing opera. Anyone who understands operatic direction understands the deep significance of stage-pictures and precision. The cast operate as their own stage-hands between scenes. When they're not dancing under the stage lights at various social gatherings, they're dancing in the dark moving set-pieces with exactness and skill. If the demanding regiment these actors experienced under this director was challenging, the results are exponentially striking in comparison to other productions. This is a play in storytelling, song, movement and spectacle. The production has also in its employ a dedicated voice and dialect coach (Susan Schuld) whose contributions work to great effect. We're back in time with Charles Dickens in Victorian, England (or thereabouts).
In terms of the central characters, one couldn't have a more compelling cast. Leading the way, Gregg Jones. A direct and duly anointed successor to the legendary actor formerly in the role for many years, Rusty Salling. This is Jones' finest work in the role. His measured journey, from incorrigible curmudgeon to compassionate saint is a wonder to behold. Sometimes actors show us their emotions. Often, during moments of discovery with the ghostly visitors, we can see inside the mind of this character from what the actor doesn't show. His work as Scrooge is mental and physical; full-body-and-mind acting at it's finest. If Scrooge laughs, you'll laugh. If Scrooge cries, you'll cry. You're Scrooge after all, in case I haven't yet made my point.
New to the HIPP stage is the mercurial Shamrock McShane as Fezziwig, among other roles he plays. Formerly Scrooge's mentor in business, Fezziwig stands in contrast to Scrooge. He's a wealthy and well-off businessman but unlike his mentee, his is a giving soul who delights in generosity and throwing grand holiday affairs for others. He's a mensch. Scrooge, not so much. Traditionally, Fezziwig is a fairly frumpish fellow in a big wig. Shamrock's turn is a slim, well-dressed confident charismatic joyful man-about-town. For casting, this is a wise and perfect choice. If somebody's not having the time of their life, Fezziwig will be first in line to help. I've known Shamrock for years as an actor. Come to find out, the man can sing and dance! Will wonders never cease. The best actors never show you everything.
Superb as Bob is Niall McGinty, who somehow finds humor in the shabby conditions of his employment. His heartbreak in the possible-future scenario where Tiny Tim does not live will break your heart in two. Next, the return of Kelly Atkins to the Hippodrome stage is always a treat, and Atkins is so exquisitely deep in the role of Jacob Marley (yes she did!) and Mrs. Fezziwig, I didn't even recognize her. This is intended as high complement to Atkins' artistry. A trained opera singer as well, Atkins effortlessly delivers the musical vocal goods.
I've never seen a more energetic Fred than his portrayal by actor Thomas Vazquez. As Fred (Scrooge's nephew and only living relative), Vazquez electrifies the stage at every turn. So desperate is he to change Scrooge's heart, he seems about to burst. In contrast, his other role as a suitably creepy Future ghost is all the quieter; hence, all the more terrifying. Likewise, Patrick T. Horn (courtesy of the Big Apple and Circle in the Square) plays the ghost of Christmas Present big and bombastic, as the present is want to be. Wake up! The moment is NOW!
As the spirit of Christmas Past, Savannah Simerly is a delight. Her bright and cheery voice comes with a faint reverberation, as if arriving to the ear spoken by someone who's not quite there yet. She sparkles with light and appears as if made of fairy tulle. Supporting players lift her into the air creating the illusion of flight. We delight in her hope and optimism for Scrooge's redemption.
In this particular performance, standing in for Karine Dieuvil, was a terrific Lena Sakalla in her debut at the Hippodrome. As Mrs. Cratchit, Sakalla embodies a mother's love and compassion for family. Even as she hesitates to toast to Scrooge's health during a family gathering, one can sense this is not who she truly is. Only Scrooge's squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous behavoir could draw such a reaction from an otherwise lovely person. With a little help from the great beyond, she toasts him anyway.
The young actors portraying the children, (too many to name in particular) are all super troopers. They confidently inhabit their roles and rise to the occasion of the more experienced actors. Indeed, we do not ever question their talents, we rather admire the characters they portray exactly as they are. These are the most giving of all storytellers; the keys that open the door to our bitter Scrooge hearts. It's the best Greek Chorus in town. Two sets of young actors trade-off from show to show, and that's probably a lot to wrangle. Therefore, all respect to Ana Muñoz, the stage manager who keeps everything behind the scenes running smoothly.
Paul Helm should be recognized; he's the Music Coordinator. As mentioned, there's much more music in this production than in previous turns, and it's so well executed and adds such charm and delight to an already charming and delightful show. Friends, don't just go to support local theatre or from any sense of obligation to tradition. Get to this show and bring your friends of all ages to reach that beauty in your soul, to free your own Scrooge, to share in a communal experience that only the magic of theatre can provide.
Sunday, December 4, 2022 – 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, December 10, 2022 – 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 11, 2022 – 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, December 17, 2022 – 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 18, 2022 – 7:00 p.m.
Monday, December 19, 2022 – 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, December 21, 2022 – 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, December 22, 2022 – 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Friday, December 23, 2022 – 2:00 p.m.
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