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A Christmas Carol

What is it about Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol that brings out the Scrooge in otherwise compassionate theatre aficionados? All I had to do was mention that I was going back to see what possibly may be the last run for the Denver Center Theatre Company's annual holiday production, and my friends rolled their eyes and clucked at the idea of having to endure such a tribulation.

How ironic that these selfsame liberals and free-thinkers, who otherwise prescribe to philosophies and behaviors that support what they believe to be evolutionary steps in human development, turn away in embarrassment at such a pure and simple message.

Photo of (L to R) Mike Hartman as Ebenezer Scrooge and Peter Bretz as the Ghost of Jacob Marley
(L to R) Mike Hartman as Ebenezer Scrooge
and Peter Bretz as the Ghost of Jacob Marley
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
For me, however, seeing Ebenezer Scrooge transformed from a money-grubbing troglodyte to a charitable social reformer is the perfect way to sidestep the materialistic miasma of a crass season that, once upon a time, harbored a thoughtful and concentrated meditation on the teachings of an impoverished prophet—one who utterly rejected the instinctive and egocentric behaviors that now drive economic, political, military, and pseudo-religious ambitions that know no bounds.

Photo of Sam Van Wetter as Boy Scrooge and Rachel Obering as Little Fan
Sam Van Wetter as Boy Scrooge
and Rachel Obering as Little Fan
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Over the years, the basics of DCTC's production of this classic have changed little. The adaptation by Laird Williamson and Dennis Powers is a lyrical and seamless précis of what is arguably the culmination of Dicken's eminent body of work. Certainly the writer himself thought this so, and toured the piece himself.

But for a professional theatre company to pull off an annual pageant that relies heavily on children from the community is no mean feat, for the same expectation of excellence that accompanies each new DCTC production is no less present for the cyclical A Christmas Carol.

Photo of (L to R) Donnie Bledsoe as a Party Guest, Leslie O’Carroll as Mrs. Fezziwig, Reed Meschefske as Young Scrooge, David Ivers as Fezziwig and Jason Donovan Hall as a Party Guest
(L to R) Donnie Bledsoe as a Party Guest,
Leslie O’Carroll as Mrs. Fezziwig,
Reed Meschefske as Young Scrooge,
David Ivers as Fezziwig and
Jason Donovan Hall as a Party Guest
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
It helps of course that the team employed to accomplish this mostly thankless task, which only draws attention if it falters in any way, is comprised of generally the same talented individuals from year to year. This cohesion begins and ends with Williamson, who obviously carries a spiritual torch for the story and its message, and who, in addition to adapting and directing the piece, wrote the lyrics to Lee Hoiby's original music; in-between, his vision is supported by the stunning costumes of the late Andrew V. Yelusich, Ann McCauley's evocative and bright choreography, Lee Stametz' warm and rousing music direction; Don Darnutzer's sublimely orchestrated lighting, David R. White's moody sound design, and Robert Blackman's multifaceted and cleverly symbolic set design.

And while, over the years, I have never seen a production of this play that does not have the sparkle and magic that the author infused into its language and substance, I must say that this year's effort in many ways exceeds those that have preceded it.

Perhaps this exquisite collaboration comes as a result of knowing that, given the appointment of a new artistic director, this could be the last production; perhaps it is in homage to the two beloved company members—Archie Smith and Andrew Yelusich—that passed away this year; perhaps it is just the anomalistic chemistry of the cast and crew; or perhaps it is in response to the utter depravity we are witnessing in the actions of the most powerful nations on earth, and the hope that, like a butterfly fluttering its wings in the Amazon, a whirlwind of peace may find its way into the amoral hearts of those who have hijacked the ship.

Whatever the underlying reasons, this is the keeper. At the center of this jewel, of course, is the portrayal of that character whose name has become synonymous with avarice and humbug. Up until this year, having seen many actors perform this role, my favorite has been Richard Russo, for he showed me the key to making Scrooge's transformation, and therefore the whole story, believable.

Photo of Randy Moore as Ebenezer Scrooge
Randy Moore as
Ebenezer Scrooge
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
That key is simply showing the hurt boy that lives inside such a mean and troubled man; after all, perpetrators were once victims themselves. Much to my delight, the night I saw this year's production, Randy Moore showed me, in his own unique fashion, that same inner truth which supports Scrooge's gleeful conversion and effusive celebration.

Moore is one of those special actors who can set an entire audience laughing with a simple facial wrinkle and a unintelligible utterance, and then use variations of this same device to growing effect throughout the evening.


Photo of (L to R) Gabriella Cavallero as Mrs. Cratchit, Harry Feder Pruett as Tiny Tim and Mark Rubald as Bob Cratchit
(L to R) Gabriella Cavallero as Mrs. Cratchit,
Harry Feder Pruett as Tiny Tim
and Mark Rubald as Bob Cratchit
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Surrounding this articulate performance are a host of well-tempered characterizations. After a poignant introductory carol by young Colton Castañeda, the reflective tone of the story is set by the stately, authoritarian Bill Christ as Dickens himself. Mark Rubald reprises his loving portrait of Bob Cratchit, relentlessly pulling on our heartstrings as the gentle and considerate caretaker of Tiny Tim. Douglas Harmsen returns as the irrepressibly cheery Fred, rallying the audience to perseverance and patience with his irascible uncle.

David Ivers and Leslie O'Carroll have a delicious time as the robust, lascivious, and golden-hearted Fezziwigs; Gabriella Cavallero warms us with a supportive and archetypal Mrs. Cratchet; Kendra Kohrt and Reed Meschefske strategically reinforce Scrooge's ill-considered decision to abandon Belle and seek his fortune; Elizabeth Rainer's Mary deftly balances skepticism and gaiety, setting up her eventual reconciliation with her beau's uncle; and Rachel Obering steals our hearts with her quintessential toy ballerina.

If guilt has you running in circles, or cynicism has you frozen in your tracks, take a deep breath, pick up a couple of tickets to A Christmas Carol, and rediscover the true spirit of Christmas. The Denver Center Theatre Company's adaptation of Charles Dickens' tale runs through December 26th. 303-893-4100.

 

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