Theatre review – "A Christmas Carol: The Musical"
[for immediate release]
Charles Dickens was once just 30 miles from Newark in 1842. He was passing through Ohio on his first US tour, overnighting in Columbus across from the Statehouse.
With the very next year, back in London, the great novelist wrote his enduring "A Christmas Carol." That story reached back into traditions from a generation before in England, and drew on themes that had been stirring his mind ever since those American travels, resulting in perhaps his most famous characters: Ebenezer Scrooge & Tiny Tim.
Dickens would recognize in an instant his entire cast on the stage of the Licking County Players. Old Scrooge, his clerk Bob Cratchit and family, nephew Fred and (late) partner Jacob Marley – these creations of Nineteenth Century imagination have a vivid and musical Twenty-first Century life here in Newark.
Dennis Kohler is a stern and sorrowful Scrooge, more choleric than cruel, but clearly needing a little life review and attitude adjustment. That is provided through Christmases past, present, and yet-to-be, embodied in this production by the Lamplighter, Sandwich Boardman, and Blind Old Hag, hauntingly portrayed by Katy Selfe, Thor Collard, and Micki Cotterman.
Scrooge is softened not just by those spirits, but by the childlike grace of Tiny Tim, winsomely played by Bob Wright. Robert Rager as Fred stands up to his uncle, and while it can't be said that Bob Cratchit resists his employer's gruff handling, Eric Wright's meekness in the role does inherit some deserved praise, along with having most of his actual family on stage.
Director Aara Wise has filled the W. Main Street playhouse with a London neighborhood's worth of characters, including a mob of children who all ably play their parts. With over forty in the cast, it's impossible to give due credit across the boards, but they make for an imposing chorus in the glorious finale. Music director Thom Ogilvie has taken on a truly large challenge and kept the harmonies close while giving many individual voices a chance to shine. Phil Graham's set is a puzzle box that is continually folding and unfolding to reveal new scenes and different perspectives within and without.
A family looking for a boost of seasonal spirit would do well to come downtown, check out the festively lit Courthouse, and enjoy this production as part of the Licking County Players' 50th anniversary season. The show is about two hours long including a fifteen minute intermission; this reviewer watched a dress rehearsal, but Marley's chains clanked no less ominously for all that. Small children's parents may note a few incidents of strong language and the appearance of ghosts, but they are more comedic than terrifying: just frightening enough to get Scrooge's attention.
While the size of the cast limits individual comment, Anna Hittepole was quite affecting in her sad solo as a motherless girl, as was Joe Wright in his turn as little Scrooge, and Misti Tidman as Mrs. Fezziwig brought an impressive emphasis to an often overlooked part (watch for "How Mrs. Fezziwig Got Her Groove Back" in some future season).
"A Christmas Carol: The Musical" with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Mike Ockrent first appeared on Broadway in 1994, regularly performed in New York and around the world ever since. It became a popular film musical of the same title starring Kelsey Grammer in 2004.
Performances run Dec. 3 through the 13th, at 131 W. Main St. at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets may be reserved by calling 740-349-2287 or at www.lickingcountyplayers.org.