A Christmas Carol: The Musical
As a bona fide Christmas-holic, I was sold on attending the University of Nevada Department of Theatre & Dance's production of A Christmas Carol: The Musical from the moment I heard they were doing it. Scrooge? Singing? Seasonal cheer? Sign me up.
But even if you're feeling Scroogey about seeing yet another production of this holiday chestnut, two major bits of news about this show might change your mind: First, it opens the curtain on $4 million worth of renovations just completed on the Redfield Proscenium Theatre in the Church Fine Arts Building; second, it is directed and choreographed by Adam Cates, fresh off his Tony-winning gig as associate choreographer to Best Musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.
This family friendly musical, with music by Disney legend Alan Menken and lyrics by Broadway writer Lynn Ahrens, departs a bit from the original Dickens tale. The broad strokes of the story are unchanged; the grumpy, stingy old man still receives three ghosts who completely change his mind about Christmas. But take, for instance, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Eve visit to his old colleague, Ebenezer, to warn him of the coming ghostly visitors. We’re used to seeing Marley as a frightening, sobering presence. In this version, however, Marley (in a wig and costume reminiscent of Beetlejuice) dances and sings with fellow spirits, kicking up his heels and rattling his chains to mock Scrooge. As a musical, the tone and feel of the story changes, with humorous and upbeat additions like this, making it a refreshing take on the familiar classic. Yet it remains true to the original in ways that count.
The cast is comprised of over 25 actors, and their performances are strong, from Rod Hearn’s moving, emotional portrayal of Scrooge, to Lisa Ryan’s gorgeously voiced Ghost of Christmas Past, to Bradford Ka’ai’ai’s warm and charming Ghost of Christmas Present, all the way down to Regina Powers’ exuberant Mrs. Fezziwig. As Marley, Erik Grubbs is funny and spooky, and is capable of a great range of physical performance.
I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but a Christmas show featuring children has great potential for bumming out everyone but their families with its awkwardness. Yet here, the kids are outstanding, convincing in their roles as they belt out tunes like pros and execute remarkably difficult choreography and tumbling.
Watch for full ballet and tap routines, gymnastic moves, and interesting and challenging incorporation of props, making full use of all the space on stage.
The Department of Theatre & Dance is really showing off with this production, making full use of all the new bells and whistles available thanks to the recent renovation. The roughly 90-minute show (no intermission) is almost entirely sung, and thanks to the impressive new sound system and strong voices, the company is more than equal to the task. Ghosts glow under the black lighting treatment and perform wire work that enables them to fly and float, and the set design features a London street scene with movable parts that gives visual depth and interest to each scene. Expect many cool visual surprises.
I was both dismayed and delighted when, upon leaving, I overheard a woman telling a friend, “It was astonishing how good it was! I mean, for a university production, right? I was so surprised!”
I’ve been raving about the work coming out of the university for years, and it was gratifying to hear someone who is clearly unfamiliar with this company’s work recognize its professional quality. I hope the latest renovations and the increasingly ambitious choices they’re making continue to please and surprise audiences.