Jim Hesselman with Alton Niemeier in A Christmas Carol The Musical. Photo: Scott Bradley

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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

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2023, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Nothing kicks off the holiday season like heading to one of the area’s big 3 theaters to see yet another performance of Dicken’s classic tale of ghosts and misers on Christmas. No, I’m not referring to the annual production at Actor’s Theater, but the occasional performance of the musical version at Derby Dinner Playhouse.

The holiday staple is given a rousing production at the playhouse, set to some infectious music by Disney staple Alan Menken, whose stylish melodies turn the show into a truly emotional and tuneful treat.

This particular adaptation began 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) 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.

DDP’s current production is typically well done and full of charm and energetic performances. 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.

Jim Hesselman returns to what may be becoming his signature role as Ebenezer Scrooge. 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. Paul McElroy nearly steals the show as Marley’s Ghost, complete with flying effects and probably the show’s best musical number. A close second best would be the “Abundance and Charity” number, performed by Clay Smith impeccably as the Ghost of Christmas Present with a chorus of tap-dancing girls backing him up.

The entire company is exceedingly talented and in fine voice; truly an exceptional cast.

On the technical side, the lighting effects by Alexa Holloway create the right atmosphere, nicely illuminating Buckholz’s expansive scenic design. Heather Paige Folsom’s spirited choreography and Olivia Coxon’s period-perfect costumes neatly round out the package.

Also, the pre-show performance of the Footnotes features a medley of songs from the movie A Muppet Christmas Carol, a personal favorite, so they really got me pumped for the main show to follow!

It’s a wonderfully staged and performed production that will likely get you into the holiday spirit. Please don’t wait to get your tickets, it will sell out fast!

Featuring Dick Baker, Jillian Prefach Baker, Clayton Bliss, Marina Bliss, Sara King-Bliss, Chris Bryant, Marc Christopher, Brittany Carricato Cox, Harli Cooper, Alex Craig, Landon Dodrill, Michael Floriano, Jim Hesselman, Westley Howe, Alex Hunt, Emrys Hussey, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Ben Jaeger, Elizabeth Loos, Paul McElroy, Kathleen Meyer, Alton Niemeier, Porter Ramsey, Lucy Scott, Robert Sharkey, Clay Smith, Robbie Steiner, Charlotte Stewart, Tyson Stuber, Olivia Thomas, Hayley Isabella Warfel, and Cary Wiger.

A Christmas Carol The Musical

November 9 – December 31, 2023

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, Indiana 47129

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. 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. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.