A Christmas Carol: The Musical
Grand Sierra Resort2500 E. Second St.
Reno, NV 89595
There’s really no way to make A Christmas Carol new. Even modernized sets and costumes, one-man shows and pyrotechnic ghosts rarely surprise us. But A Christmas Carol: The Musical, onstage Sunday, Dec. 12, at the Grand Sierra Resort, might come close.
Once solely the domain of Radio City Music Hall and only performed as part of its “Christmas Spectacular” at Madison Square Garden, this peppy, intermission-less operetta is more gravy than grave, thanks to music by Disney’s hit machine Alan Menken, as well as an all-new back story for the miserly Scrooge, and even a kicky, Rockettes-style number.
According to director Monica Folio, the ginormous 150-person cast broke The Tahoe Players’ tradition of double-casting because of the size and complexity of the show.
“There are 28 songs in the show, which is just huge, and they’ve been working for months to get it down,” says Folio. “But the voices we have are just amazing, and all of the leads were selected on the basis of their vocal abilities.”
The leads include Tom Jacobs as Bob Cratchit; Daniel Owens as Scrooge’s nephew, Fred; Ryan Walker as Tiny Tim; and Shawna Hafen, Christopher Salas and Victor Schoenfeldt as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, respectively.
Tackling Scrooge is Gerry Dunlap, whose exhausting role requires that he be on stage for the entire show, which runs nearly two hours.
“It’s good that a lot of times Scrooge gets to just sit and watch,” says Dunlap. “But even then, he has to always be reacting to the moment.”
Forget about the acting, which calls on the full range of his emotions, from intense anger to tearful sadness and, finally, giddiness: All the lines here are sung.
“Everyone remembers Scrooge as a mean and selfish skinflint, but no one remembers him as being what Dickens calls ‘as good as his word,’ and taking care of the poor,” says Dunlap. “It’s too bad he’s remembered as a negative figure, so I’m really trying to show the drastic change the man takes.”
The show is a family affair for Dunlap, whose wife, Janet, plays Scrooge’s usually unmentioned mother, and their daughter, Joanna, a regular with The Tahoe Players, plays Mrs. Fezziwig.
“In most adaptations, you see his relationship with Emily [his fiancée]; he breaks up with her and becomes a miser,” says Joanna. “In this one, we see him cry over his best friend Marley dying, and we get to see the reason why he becomes such a miser, because his father was taken to debtor’s prison when he was a boy, and it had a huge effect on him. So there’s a big emotional element I’ve never seen in any other production.”
The Dunlaps, who regularly take part in Civil War reenactments, also happened to have some 19th century costumes lying around that fit this Victorian tale perfectly.
Other production elements are worth noting. The Grand Sierra boasts that its Grand Theatre’s almost-one-acre indoor stage is the largest in the world, and this show makes full use of it. A complement of ghosts will shuffle in, chains and all, via the side stages, and the elevator will actually lower Scrooge into the ground during his brush with death. Two Belgian draft mules, each of them more than 16 hands high and weighing about 1,400 pounds, will pull a wooden buckboard to lug Scrooge’s casket.
The Tahoe Players will have performed the show twice a day, from Dec. 6 through 12, for kids from the Washoe County School District prior to their one public performance, so the show should be a family-friendly crowd-pleaser, and that’s no humbug.