A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: A CHRISTMAS CAROL
‘Tis the Christmas Season and no Christmas – past, present, or future – would be complete without the staging of “A Christmas Carol,” a touching morality story based on the novella by Victorian author Charles Dickens. Publication in 1843 brought him enduring fame, and audiences return to the story again and again, bringing new generations of children with them.
Players’ production, directed by C. Suzanne Hudson-Smith, opened on December 6 and will remain on stage through December 22, 2019. The script is an adaptation by playwright Romulus Linney, and is as delightful as Dickens’ original story. Perhaps more delightful; be prepared carols and new twists in this family friendly version.
Elgin Moore, in his PBTS debut, portrays the leading character Ebenezer Scrooge. Previous roles included the prosecuting attorney in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and The Duke of Suffolk in “Wolf Hall,” both at Theatre Jacksonville. We have seen this play at least thirty times in the past (many viewings were at the Alhambra), and were used to seeing meaner Scrooges, but Moore, who certainly looks the part, is much more receptive to the visiting ghosts, who guide him through crucial events in his life, which ultimately leads to a redemptive charge of heart.
As the play begins, it is evident that Scrooge is an unlikeable miser who finds Christmas unlikeable. In contrast, his cheerful nephew Fred (Shawn Stermer) who is his only living family member and the only person in the world who has any reason whatever to care about him, views Christmas as a time of goodness and sharing; Scrooge dismisses these ideas with “Bah! Humbug!”
“In the first place, Marley was dead . . .” and Marley’s apparition is the first of the four uninvited ghosts who visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve. Bob Shellenberger, who began his acting career sixty years ago, was a marvelous Marley, portrayed with a deep mournful voice. He must have spent hours putting on the makeup and costume.
Scrooge’s unappreciated and underpaid clerk, the mild-mannered Bob Cratchit, was portrayed by Adam Thompson, whom we last saw in “Street Scene” at Jacksonville University. While Cratchit’s life in the office can be chilly, Thompson has him smiling at home in the midst of a family filled with love and warmth.
Local actress Lisa Fleming appears as Mrs. Cratchit, who is devoted to her large family. The Cratchit children include Belinda (Claire Smith), Martha (Arden Trusty), Gillian (Avery Grover) and Miranda (Madison Oliva). Connor Olivia, who is eight years old, appears as Tiny Tim; this is his first theatrical role. He projects well and is very believable. (And even though the family is impoverished due to the miserly wage Scrooge pays Bob, it appears they are wise shoppers, as their clothing is attractive and color coordinated).
Be prepared to be surprised when the Ghost of Christmas Past appears. While you may have been expecting a stern male guide, you will find the director has cast Farah Nesargi in the role instead. She wears a crown ringed with candles as she accompanies Scrooge on a journey back to his youth, which includes a festive Christmas Ball given by the Fezziwigs, who are portrayed by Ruben Oliva and Kenggy Bravo. And he relives his courtship as a young businessman (Andres Bravo) in love with the beautiful Belle (Hannah Cereghino) which ends when she tells him she will not marry him because of his obsessive pursuit of wealth.
The Ghost of Christmas Present is portrayed by the animated Jaquette Jantzen, who is dressed attractively and shows Scrooge an overview of festivities by Londoners.
The last of Scrooge’s visitors is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come; a dark silent presence portrayed by an uncredited cast member who shows Scrooge his probable future: a lonely unmourned death. A completely different Scrooge awakens on Christmas Day – a man filled with the spirit of Christmas who is eager to share his wealth with those less fortunate.
Others rounding out this large cast of “A Christmas Carol” (in one or more roles) include a Caroler (Olivia Rodgers), Caroline (Victoria Pregent) and her husband (Christian Douglas), Boy Scrooge (Jack Lockett), Orson (Noah Toops), Valentine (Tiyuka Jumba) Fezziwig’s Guest (Facia Mundy), Julia (Catherine Tetzlaff), Lucy (Anna Hobbs), Topper (Mason George), Ignorance (Freya Nesargi), Ben Sparenberg and Baron Tetzlaff (Businessmen), Laundress (Sherry Rosen) and Old Joe (Frankie Rady).
The set is unique, as the audience is surrounded by views of London throughout the play. Candace Dickens, Scenic Designer, filled the set with tall wooden sheets filled with black and white illustrations of London streets, homes, and architectural landmarks. The panels are moved about as the scenes change, and we found this far more interesting than an approach that used digital projection. The costumes by Bev Goldstein complete the picture of being in London. And yes, even fog rolls in from time to time.
The Creative Team and Crew included C. Suzanne Hudson-Smith, (Director); Jeanne Caussin & Tanya Adams, (Producers); Justin Brown (Stage Manager); Jereme Raickett (Production Manager); Candace Dickens (Scenic Designer); Judelyn Dixon (Lighting Designer); Jay Dean (Sound Designer); Bev Goldstein (Costume Designer); Lisa Flemming (Makeup Designer); Paul Galvan (Original Music Creator); Victoria Pregent (Choreographer); Emily Gainworth (Sound Technician); and Tiyana Janzen (Production Assistant).
“A Christmas Carol” show opened December 6, and will remain on stage through December 22, 2019. Players by the Sea is located at 106 6th Street North in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. For reservations call 904-249-0289 or visit playersbythesea.org.