REVIEW: 'Scrooge" a wonderful gift to midstate this holiday season.
By R. Andrew Strickland
(Originally published in the Macon Telegraph, December 13, 2005.)
Few stories have had a larger impact on the holiday season than A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The classic tale of a cantankerous Christmas-hating miser redeemed by a visiting quartet of spirits has expanded from the original Victorian story through a series of films and stage adaptations. One of the more recent versions, Leslie Bricusse’s musical Scrooge, is currently bringing “tidings of comfort and joy” to Theatre Macon’s stage.
Every version of A Christmas Carol gets its identity through the actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge. Theatre Macon’s production is certainly no different. Tom Morris takes on the title role giving it a hale and hearty treatment that is quite refreshing. Often Scrooge seems doddering and frail, a King Lear for Christmas time. Morris’ Scrooge has a strength and vitality that makes his early villainy more effective and his impending doom seem like more of a threat. Morris sings the role well and handles the comic elements with a deft touch. Dickens’ Scrooge had a sardonic sense of humor – an element of the role that is thankfully not lost on Morris. His best work though is reserved for Scrooge’s growing series of self-realizations. These moments are heart-felt and true, leading strongly to Scrooge’s moving epiphany song “I’ll Begin Again”.
Morris is supported by a large cast, many of whom give fine character turns. Jamie Geiger is fantastic as Scrooge’s clerk Bob Cratchit. Geiger possesses an amazing voice and pairs it with acting that is simple, strong, and powerfully honest. Also notable are Jeff Lintz as the tormented ghost of Jacob Marley and Steve Wilson as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Lintz is appropriately creepy, handling the task of creating a character that is both tormentor and tormented in fine fashion – and doing it while covered in chains to boot. Wilson, on the other hand, is the living embodiment of good spirits. His Ghost of Christmas Present has both a contagious energy and an unexpected bite that is irresistible.
One of the strongest moments of the show, however, comes in a surprising place. Scrooge is taken back to view the moments in his past that molded him into his current miserly state. Here he is faced with himself as a young man, forced to watch as he loses the love of his life. This scene provides some of the best music and most poignant acting of the entire production. Jonathan Willis is exceptional as Young Scrooge, as is Catherine Bishop as his love interest Isabel. Their duet in “Happiness” is as achingly beautiful as their characters’ parting is painfully believable.
A drawback to Theatre Macon’s production comes in the large ensemble numbers. Many of these songs cry out for a boundless energy that feels constrained by the limited amount of stage space. The numbers are well-sung by the ensemble, but sometimes seem to be lacking in vocal power. Still, the ensemble does a wonderful job of creating the atmosphere of Victorian England while staying committed to character.
Director Jim Crisp has staged this production quite creatively, utilizing a small set that folds out from itself to suggest the various locales. The set was fascinating in its impressive use of limited space, but suffered some as its beautiful backdrop billowed and shook through the entire production. This proved quite distracting at times.
The other technical elements are very successful. Shelley Kuhen’s costumes are richly detailed, providing immediate visual references to the many different time periods and social classes of the musical. Tony Pearson’s lighting is varied and effective, providing not only much-needed mood but also helping define the ever-changing locations.
Jim Crisp and the cast and crew of Scrooge have provided Macon with a musical Christmas card that only a Scrooge could resist.