By Sheila Abrams
Big! Big, big, big! That’s the first word that comes to mind, thinking about the production of A Christmas Carol now at the Lackland Center, on the Centenary College campus in Hackettstown.
Making good use of the stage and splendid facilities at the Sitnik Theater, director Michael Blevins and the Centenary Stage Company have taken a production that played for 10 years at Madison Square Garden and made it their own. With a serviceable, if less than inspired, score by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and a book by Ahrens and Mike Ockrent, this show is all about singing and dancing. It’s a lot of fun and leaves the audience smiling.
Unfortunately, the story sort of gets lost. Unfortunately, because it’s a really good story.
Not that it isn’t in there. Osborn Focht, who played Bill Sykes in Centenary’s Oliver! last year, is a wiry Scrooge (left), vividly clothed mostly in red long johns. He says all the memorable things about humbug and prisons and workhouses and so forth. But somehow Scrooge, the three ghosts who visit him, Tiny Tim, Marley’s ghost and all the rest get overwhelmed by the musical numbers. Is that terrible? The audience at the performance we saw, which included many children, didn’t seem to think so, although Dickens might have.
The musical numbers are almost nonstop. And they are gorgeously done. The ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s late partner (Dave Scheffler), is suitably adorned with chains and money boxes, and in this version he is accompanied by a chorus of similarly dressed, singing and dancing ghosts.
Centenary dance faculty member Lea Antolini is nymphlike as the Ghost of Christmas Past. She moves beautifully and looks like she was borrowed from a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Scrooge’s past, including an unhappy boyhood, is mentioned but it‘s all heading for another splendid musical number: Fezziwig’s Christmas party (right), probably literature’s first (and best) office party. (Photos by Bob Eberle)
When it comes to the Ghost of Christmas Present (Steven Bidwell), we think we might have missed something. This ghost brings with him a tap-dancing chorus line of Marilyn Monroe look-alikes, accompanied by a male chorus. We don’t know what it has to do with Scrooge, but it’s fun, and there are some remarkably good dancers on that stage. Apparently, quite a few of them come from the Centenary Young Performers’ Workshop, which Blevins directs. And the college’s relatively new dance major doubtless also contributes.
The dancers have plenty of stage time, whether in beautiful Victorian dress, Marilyn costumes or shrouds and chains. Director Michael Blevins also did the choreography. His Broadway history is clearly showing.
The Cratchits are there—James Nester as Scrooge’s unfortunate clerk, Alycia Kunkle as his wife, and Andrew Nussbaum as Tiny Tim—though their story is not so much in the forefront. And Alex Maxwell is Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, in another plotline that gets short shrift.
The show runs about an hour and a half without intermission, so be sure to plan ahead, especially if you have children in tow. If you are familiar with the Centenary Stage Company, you may spot Artistic Director Carl Wallnau in the small role of the Beadle and General Manager Catherine Rust as Mrs. Mops. The production is accompanied by a very able 10-piece musical ensemble directed by Kevin Lynch. Jordan Janota was the scenic designer and Ed Matthews the lighting designer. Julia Sharp deserves bouquets for the dozens of exquisite costumes she designed.
We recommend this production of A Christmas Carol as a holiday treat that will leave everybody in a festive mood. But we urge you also to have a look at some other version of Dickens’ brilliant novella. There is no shortage of them.