by Beki Pineda

A CHRISTMAS CAROL – Adapted by Richard Hellesen from the Charles Dickens story; Music by David De Berry; Directed by Anthony Powell. Produced by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company (14th and Curtis, Denver) through December 24. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or Denvercenter.org.

This is the ultimate CHRISTMAS CAROL. The Denver Center pulls out all the stops for this one. Because this is the 27th time they have done this production and used this adaptation since 2005, they’ve got it down pat. Factor in the fact that 18 of the 30 cast members are trusted, talented returning actors and you’ve got another reason to attend. There are also 12 new (in some cases, very young) actors performing for the first time at the DCPA. What a treat you are in for!

You can’t help but be impressed not only with the acting, but also the production itself. Starting off with a nearly bare stage, as the story progresses, additional little Victorian toys and images join the false proscenium that frames the stage, stairs roll silently into place; furniture and other things pop up out of the floor; food appears, gets eaten and then disappears; flying is simulated; it just goes on and on what they can do. Then when Act I is over and the intermission starts, in darkness the stage is cleared back to its original bareness in something like 15 seconds. The set was designed by Vicki Smith with only small variations over the years. For instance, the entrance of Jacob Marley’s Ghost (Jacob Dresch) changed a few years back to the scream-inducing jumping-in-the-seat spectacular entrance he makes now. But we still get the Ghost of Christmas Present sliding in on his huge sled bearing gifts and the two-story Ghost of Christmas Yet To Be appearing out of the darkness.  The Scrooge and Marley sign that hangs over the door of the counting house has broken panes and looks uncared for. The same space is converted into the Fezziwig Ball in the twinkling of an eye with bright holiday lights and tables of gorgeous looking food. It’s all there.

One of the things you will remember are the absolutely beautiful Victorian costumes designed by Kevin Coperhaver and created by the talented construction experts in the costume shop. You will want to be married in the spectacular costume of the Ghost of Christmas Past (lucky Stella Kim gets to wear this one). The jolly Ghost of Christmas Present (Topher Embrey) arrives in a green velvet long robe trimmed with fur. Christmas Yet To Come (Marco Robinson) is hid behind a ghostly black mask and robe with arms out to there. But all of the townspeople, Cratchit’s, and Fred’s Christmas guests wear lovely authentic looking street and party clothes. Bright colors abound making Scrooge’s dour black seem out of place.

There are little things that add to the simple joy of this production like the sound effects designed by Melanie Chen Cole:  the tinkle of a bell when anyone enters Scrooge’s place of business, the creak of the rarely used coal bin opening, the chains of Marley’s ghost, the violin of the musician at the Ball and the music. Ah, the music. There is singing and dancing all through this production but it is a play with music, not a musical. It opens and closes with a lone street singer (Erin Willis) but in between, there is singing on the street, at Ebenezer’s school, at the Fezziwig Ball and anywhere else it seems reasonable to put a song and a folk dance.

And the lighting which moves us from Scrooge’s gloomy work place and flat to the wide-open spaces of Christmas Past and Present. The fear encouraged by the entrance of Marley’s Ghost is enhanced by the dramatic lighting that accompanies it. The future of Scrooge is made even more dreadful by the unforgiving light of the graveyard where he may lie. Every component of this production is complimentary to the whole.

Of course, you’ve got to have a really great Scrooge to carry it off. You’ve got to believe every moment that he is the mean, spiteful old miser that he really is in the beginning who enjoys leading people on and putting them down. This is so that his redemption in the end is all the more delightful because of how far he’s come in only one night of ghostly travels. Michael Santo filled the bill perfectly. He had a sense of irony about him that was fun even when he was being his Scroogiest. A twinkle in his eye that said “I know who I am and what I am and I don’t care that you don’t like it.” But then calling out the window to the boy on the street at the end and calling him “a delightful child,” you know something major has happened. Best of all, (spoiler alert) Tiny Tim did not die.

If this magnificent production doesn’t bring a tear to your eye at least once during the evening and encourage you to go out a buy a gift for someone who doesn’t expect it,  you deserve to be boiled with your own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through your heart.

A WOW factor of 10!

 

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