Barrett Cooper & Jon Yarmuth in A Christmas Carol – A Radio Play. Photo: O’Neil Arnold

A Christmas Carol – A Radio Play

Gabriel Lefkowitz, conductor
Elliott Forrest, director

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Before we began to sit around our 60-inch television screens streaming the latest episode of Holiday Baking Challenges, families would instead be learning these recipes aurally through the radio. Before 1950, radio was the mass medium for entertainment for households worldwide. Sure, you could read a book, but there was something special about hearing Burns and Allen sharing barbs in their loving way, or Arturo Toscanini leading the NBC Orchestra, all through the glowing dial of the Philco radio.

It was also not uncommon for theatre to be brought to life on the radio using talented actors, known for their voice and/or their skills on the stage. Such is the setting for Louisville Orchestra’s latest collaboration with the award-winning Stage One. 

With just a small walking stage to raise the voice talent and foley artist and the Louisville Orchestra (LO) on the floor, the audience grouped into the Mellwood Arts Center DaVinci Room to witness John Forrester’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novelette A Christmas Carol

Like many of us in the Louisville area, part of our Yuletide ritual was to go to Actors Theatre and witness actors like William McNulty bring the Dickens classic to life, but while our Grand Dame of Theater takes a break from this favorite, the LO and Stage One have certainly stumbled onto something that is a favorable substitute or perhaps one-day addition to the tradition.

Stage One actors Terry Schwab (Scrooge), Zac Hoogendyke (Bob Cratchit), Barrett Cooper (Marley), and Crystian Wiltshire (Fred, Scrooge’s nephew) have a lion’s share of the lines, but Clara Harris, Cami Glauser, and Libby Winkler round out the cast and of the seven actors mentioned, only Schwab has a singular role. Most definitely and having seen most of these talents on stage before, I did not have an ounce of concern that the words would leap from the page, as it were.

Cooper’s Marley was eerily spot on…. creepy, forceful, and repentant. Hoogendyke as Cratchit did remind me of David Warner’s performance as Cratchit in the movie adaptation with George C. Scott. Schwab’s Scrooge was a little uneven at times, particularly in interactions with other characters, but he was sufficiently cantankerous to bubbly in the end.

Alongside the bevy of voices, two well-known personalities of the area brought their talents to this endeavor: John Yarmuth and Barry Bernson. 

John Yarmuth, nattily dressed in a suit, approached the microphone with a folder in hand and lent his oration skills to serve as the story’s narrator while Bernsen, a long-serving media personality had some fun on the side of stage serving as the foley artist: playing with rustling paper, providing gravely voices and simulating the sounds of footsteps in the snow. What great fun!!

As to the music, the score leaned heavily on classic holiday songs but all the tunes were perfect settings for the actions on stage, and under the baton of Gabriel Lefkowitz, the LO played with agility and control, realizing that their environment was a bit more restrictive for the volume of sound and reach.

For the most part, director Elliott Forrest did well in articulating what a production in a radio booth may look like, but I was a little confused when during the visits with the spirits the characters seemed to leave the confines of the studio to travel through time. It just looked a little awkward and the actors appeared uncertain at times. But this was just a slight in an otherwise fun and nostalgic visit to mid-19th Century England.

I do hope that this may become a part of the repertoire, maybe with some slight tweaking, like more foley sounds, but all in all a most jolly good time!!

Bravi Tutti!!!

A Christmas Carol – A Radio Play

December 13-15, 2024Louisville Orchestra in Collaboration
with Stage One Family Theatre
Mellwood Art Center
1860 Mellwood Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York, and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over 25+ years of experience in the classical arts.