CHRISTMAS CAROLE

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSON
The Alhambra Theatre & Dining has opened the all-time Christmas favorite, Bruce Allen Scudder’s “Christmas Carole.” The production will be on the stage until December 24 at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville.
This musical version was expressly written for the Alhambra in 1985 and many Alhambra regulars like us have seen it a number of times. Just as the Alhambra was made over two years ago by Craig Smith, this year’s “Christmas Carole” will surprise you with its bright new costumes, a new set, and a very talented cast with lots of new faces.
Nothing has changed, though, in the classic tale by Dickens about miser Ebenezer Scrooge who is instilled with Christmas spirit after a scary evening (but a very funny one in Alhambra’s version) spent with four ghosts.
Reprising a role inaugurated at the Alhambra when he was in his twenties is Gary Marachek, whom we are pleased to report is better than ever. He captures both the menace and humor of the bitter skinflint Scrooge in Act One, when he walks to the edge of the stage and with his strong deep voice looks at one of the children in the audience and growls “I despise children.” The kids, totally unintimidated, laughed in response.
Later, Scrooge, while still very funny, is bewildered and frightened by the visits of the ghosts, beginning with his former partner, Jacob Marley. In Act Two, which includes an eye-opening flashback to the losses of his past and the foretelling of a grim future, Scrooge experiences heartwarming changes and becomes filled with generosity, grateful for the opportunity to share in the joys of the holiday, and eager to brighten the lives of others. Marachek, who has a marvelous voice, has performed in 300 or more Equity stage productions, and has an impressive resume of musical theatre leads.
This production has an exceptionally strong supporting cast. Michael Ursua is nephew Fred, who sings wonderfully and narrates the action. This is Mr. Ursua’s third show at the Alhambra and the talented performer is not only in the show in a major role but is also the production’s stage manager and musical director.
Alex Jorth, whose singing was so impressive as Freddy in the recent” My Fair Lady,” is excellent as the loyal but underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit. Equally impressive is Amanda Carlisle as his assertive wife, Dorothy. Kelli Clevenger in a cameo role as Belle, Scrooge’s lost love, sings the moving “Better Than Then.”
If there is a Hall of Fame for ghosts of Christmas Carole, than Ken Uibel is certainly a charter member. He has been performing all four ghosts for the past twenty years, and he literally owns these roles. We were treated to another striking and crowd pleasing performance by Mr. Uibel.
This is Abby Davey’s second go-round as Tiny Tim and at eight years of age, may be her last in that role, but this gifted actress who already has done a number of national commercials will be back, we are sure.
Jessica Booth, who grew up in this theatre and has 25 productions to her credit, is now a junior in the musical theatre program at UCF. She gives a rousing performance as Lizzie, the leader of Scrooge’s raucous paid mourners.
Rounding out the cast are Joseph Parra (Fezziwigg), Rachel Anton (Mrs. Fezziwigg), Shain Stroff and Mark Poppleton as the two charity men, and Emily Davey as the Cratchit’s daughter.
The new sets by Set Designer Dave Dionne depict brick storefronts and English half-timbered houses. Scrooge’s bedroom has a tiny bed, designed to provoke laughter.
The Victorian costumes by The Costume Crew include top hats, jackets with long tails, capes, bonnets, and long skirts, in an appealing color palette. The Fezziwig’s matching calico costumes were interesting, as was Scrooge’s ankle-length nightshirt.
Shain Stroff choreographed, and Alhambra Artist Director Tod Booth cast and directed this superb ensemble of talented performers.
If you had seen Christmas Carole in the past, besides the changes to the costumes and sets, you will notice how well you can hear every word and note of every song in this production, since the Alhambra has installed a state of the art sound system and all the actors are miked.
Chef DeJuan Roy’ delicious menu for this show includes carved honey baked ham and Christmas turkey with cranberry chutney, baked macaroni and cheese, cornbread stuffing and green beans with candied pecans. For the beef lovers there is also sliced top round of sirloin. You will have your choice of salads and desserts but we will let you discover those for yourself.
It was fun to see Gary Marachek once again working his stage magic at the Alhambra. “Christmas Carol” is uplifting entertainment for the whole family. Call 641-1212 for reservations or visit them on the web at www.alhambrajax.com

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