A Holiday Ghost Tale “CHRISTMAS CAROLE”

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Alhambra Theatre & Dining Review

Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom [email protected]

‘Tis the Christmas season and no Christmas— past, present, or future— would be complete without Charles Dickens’ touching morality tale, “Christmas Carole.”

The Alhambra Theatre’s version is back for the twenty-fourth time, where it opened with a sold-out gala night on November 27, 2015. Skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge will be delighting audiences until December 24th.

If you are reading this, you are likely either someone who has seen a past performance of this show at the Alhambra and want to know if it is true to the heritage of the past, or someone who has never seen this version and is interested in attending.

This delightful musical with a book by Janie Nowell and music and lyrics by Bruce Allen Scudder is essentially the same one that keeps audiences returning again and again, bringing new generations of children with them to enjoy the story.

Director/producer Tod Booth is known as an innovative and creative director, but in the casting of “Christmas Carole” he has wisely followed the dictum of centuries: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Booth has selected new actors for some roles, and has added or changed bits of stage business. We have also noticed a number of technical changes. The lighting has vastly improved over the past twenty-four years and the new LED lights are amazingly versatile. While today’s sound system is excellent, back when the show first hit the stage, the actors were not miked as they are now. The sets are freshened up for each revival, and the costumes by the Costume Crew are colorful and accurately reflect the life and times of Dickens’ Londoners in the 1840s.

Gary Marachek, a New York based actor, is back for the eighth time as Scrooge. He has an excellent singing voice and is animated and funny as he experiences visits by the ghosts who examine his life and lead him to a redemptive change of heart.

Matthew Jay Campbell is back for his third time, and plays the important role of Nephew Freddy who narrates the action and sings. We remember Matt as Bob Cratchit, some twelve years ago.

The Cratchit family, although impoverished due to the miserly wages Scrooge reluctantly pays to Bob, the head of the household who is employed as his clerk, is bound together with warmth and love. Bob is played by Griffeth Whitehurst, who was the lead in the Alhambra’s previous “Anything Goes.” Local actress Linzy Lauren is Mrs. Cratchit. Twelve-year-old Abbey Davey is daughter Sarah and is already an Alhambra veteran, having played Tiny Tim in three previous productions. Her brother, Harrison Davey, who appears in the role of Tiny Tim in this production, is six years old and is also a veteran of the Alhambra’s stage; he appeared in the same role two years ago. He is cute and sings well; you will want to adopt him. (And even though they have very little money, it appears that the family members are all wise shoppers as their clothing is wonderfully fine and color coordinated).

Prior to the run of this production, we ran into actor Ken Uibel and asked him if he would be playing the roles of the multiple ghosts. He replied that auditions were coming up and he would be auditioning! We wish we had been able to find someone who was willing to wager against his getting this part as he appears to own it. He has marvelously played all four ghosts for over twenty years, delighting audiences with the appearance of each apparition.

And speaking of roles as minor careers, Joseph Parra has appeared as Fezziwig several times. Shain Stroff, recently the very funny Lord Oakleigh in “Anything Goes,” is back as Choreographer/Dance Captain and Charity Man 1, teamed with Lee Cohen as Charity Man 2.

There is a range of musical styles, mostly upbeat with lyrics that you can understand. Nicole Coffaro is Belle, Scrooge’s fiancée when he was young. She is making her Alhambra debut singing “Better Than Then,” in a rendition which suggests light opera. The mourners sing “He Isn’t Gonna Need It,” a very contemporary tune, with Katherine Paladino playing Lizzie as the lead singer. Rounding out the cast are Patti Eyler as Mrs. Fezziwig, and Taylor Halsema as Annie.

The festivities begin prior to the show, as Chef DeJuan Roy has a holiday feast on the menu as an entrée. This traditional choice includes carved turkey, baked ham, sweet potato soufflé, cornbread dressing, and green beans. For you non-traditionalists, choices include seared arctic char, beef stroganoff, and a vegetarian dish. And, as always, interesting desserts are included.

The Production Staff: Stage Manager, Jason Nettle; Musial Director, Cathy Murphy Giddens; Set Designers David Dionne and Ian Black.

“Christmas Carole” is more than a lesson for children. The show is well-plotted, well-paced, and a charming melodrama that affirms that charity and love can overcome bleakness and adversity. Besides that, it is a lot of fun as performed by the capable and polished Alhambra cast.

Coming up next is the special New Year’s Eve show at the Alhambra, featuring a big-band bash, with a fantastic fifteen-piece band playing all styles of music for your dancing and listening pleasure. The evening includes great preshow dining and a big balloon drop, followed by the famous Midnight Breakfast Buffet. The theatre is located at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville. Call 904-641-1212 or visit alhambrajax.com for additional information and reservations.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.