Left to right: Elenna Usher, Eileen Cannon, Brittany Carricato Cox, Eliza Donahue, Cami Glauser, Carmen Tate, & Jim Hesselman in A Christmas Carol. Photo courtesy Derby Dinner.
A Christmas Carol: The Musical
Book by Mike Ockrent & Lynn Ahrens
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the Story by Charles Dickens
Directed by Lee Buckholz
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2017, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
Derby Dinner Playhouse has outdone themselves once again, with a rousing production of a holiday staple set to some infectious music by the legendary Alan Menken. I’m referring to a dusty old standard, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, now blended with Menken’s stylish melodies into a truly emotional and tuneful treat.
This musical version of the classic had its beginnings as a show conceived for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan (which explains why there are so many numbers requiring tap-dancing female backup dancers) way back in 1994. It was an annual staple from 1994 until 2003, over the years featuring such acting luminaries in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge as Terrence Mann, Tony Randall, Hal Linden, Roddy McDowall, F. Murray Abraham, Frank Langella, Tim Curry, Tony Roberts, Roger Daltrey, and Jim Dale. There was even a film version featuring Kelsey Grammer in 2004.
As presented by the DDP, the show is just infectious. The traditional story of the miser transformed by a series of ghostly apparitions on Christmas Eve, one of the most retold stories in the history of the written word, translates beautifully to the open staging at the Playhouse. Director Lee Buckholz keeps the performers moving at a brisk pace (even if the occasional sightline problem does come up) and the atmosphere of Dickensian London is palpable. Any version of the story, when done well, should stir the emotions and this one does not disappoint; I found myself getting a catch in my throat and misty-eyed several times.
In the lead role of Scrooge, Jim Hesselman gives what may be the performance of his lifetime. Unrecognizable under the heavy wig and old-age makeup, he conveys all the rage and pathos the role requires, and his singing abilities are on fine display. Bobby Conte is suitably creepy as Marley’s Ghost, complete with flying effects and probably the show’s best musical number. And as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, the incomparable J.R. Stuart and Mandi Hutchins nearly steal the show with their natural comic timing and tangible chemistry together.
The entire company is exceedingly talented and in fine voice; only occasionally did I hear a flat note from some of the younger performers. Truly an exceptional cast.
On the technical side, the lighting effects by Andrew Duff nicely create the right atmosphere (though on the night I attended there appeared to be a missed cue, leaving Hesselman singing in complete darkness for several seconds), nicely illuminating Buckholz’s expansive scenic design. Heather Paige Folsom’s spirited choreography and Sharon Murray Harrah’s period-perfect costumes neatly round out the package. Hopefully, they will fix a problem with anchoring the moving parts of the set; the night I attended there was a tense moment when a very large set piece fell over and broke, narrowly missing an actor (and possibly even the audience!) leaving pieces on the stage for the rest of the first act.
Amazing from start to finish, it’s a solid production that will be sure to get you into the holiday spirit. Don’t wait to get your tickets, I’m told it is selling out quickly!
Featuring Drew Ashley, Dick Baker, Clayton Bliss, Michelle Bradley, Finnigan Broyles, Chris Bryant, Michael Bulleit, Eileen Cannon, Tim Charlton, Bobby Conte, Brittany Cox, Braedan Criss, Annie Dauk, Eliza Donahue, Zander Essex, Cami Glauser, Beckett Gunderson, Jim Hesselman, Mandi Hutchins, A.J. Hughes, Elijah Kelso, Sara King, Elizabeth Loos, Gray Lynn, Tony Milder, John Payonk, Jillian Prefach, Adam Raque, Robert Sharkey, Clay Smith, J.R. Stuart, Carmen Tate, Roman Tate, Elenna Usher, Cameron Wade, and Cary Wiger.
A Christmas Carol: The Musical
November 15 – December 31, 2017
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.