A Christmas Carol a new musical play by Michael O'Brien based on the novella by Charles Dickens
Charles Wright as Scrooge meets his long-dead partner, Jacob Marley
Now playing at the Boland Theatre, Koussevitsky Arts Center, Berkshire Community College, Pittsfield, MA
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
If you're going to produce "A Christmas Carol" it's hard to find a better Ebenezer Scrooge than Charlie Wright. I should know. He's played the role for me in at least three different productions over the past four years. Now he has the center-stage spotlight in a fully staged, newly conceived, semi-musical version created by the new theater director for Berkshire Community College, Michael O'Brien. O'Brien has done his own adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, with music by Akiva Talmi, lyrics by Jenna Kyle-O'Brien and cast consisting of BCC students, puppets and assorted others, including a large group of children.
Let's look at this production from its strengths. The puppets are fabulous; there are four of them - one for each major ghost in the tale. They are manipulated by a trio of talented puppeteers, Matt DeWinkeleer, Jessica Carty and Maricelli Torres with the assistance of the actors voicing the characters. Matt Passetto is a powerful Jacob Marley. Jessica Goodchild makes a fragile and soft-voiced Christmas Past. Matt Coviello is a deliciously silly Christmas Present. As each ghost appears on schedule the surprises contained within their design continue to entrance, delight and even haunt the audience. If there was nothing else good about this production, these puppets, in conjunction with the man they haunt as embodied by Wright, would make the higher than usual cost of this production ($30-$40) worthwhile.
The set design by Valentin Fedorov and Michael O'Brien is excellent. Leigh Figeuroa's costumes are perfect for the period, although a few changes of costume for some of the men and women might have helped - especially considering their visibility as street people and set changers in addition to playing their own characters. Only in the lighting design of Ryan Cavanaugh does this production fall apart. There are so many missed opportunities here, and in this theater where there are so many possibilities its a shame that this work is shoddy. It would add so much to have areas properly lit, properly dimmed and better timed. Perhaps, since this was the premiere performance, that can be fixed in short order. I hope so becaue its the one production element holding back the success of this show.
A few additional performances stand out for their good work, and a few for their amateurishness. Joseph Breen is an excellent young Scrooge. Heather Rowley as Belle is fine, but she hasn't yet learned to grow subtly older when needed. Tara Young is frighteningly real as the Charwoman as is Sarah Mitchell as the Laundress. Alex Cordero, who played the Undertaker here has played the role for me and he has grown better and better with the years. Their scene together was perfection. Theresa Murphy is a charming Tiny Tim; she could have used a longer scene to play. Emily Osthoff is almost there as Mrs. Cratchitt, better in the angry moments than in the sentimental ones. Corey Doucette will be a fine Bob Cratchitt.
The music and lyrics are workable, but not memorable and sometimes they repeat what's already been said in a scene. In a work of two acts lasting only an hour and a half (with the intermission), there should have been something more, songs to enhance the script rather than merely echo it. Jessica Roemischer and Gayle Schenchman as the orchestra (piano and violin) do their best not to drown out the players who have yet to learn how to project their voices. Putting them backstage, rather than on a forestage might help.
This is a good production with some wonderful aspects and certainly worth a visit, especially on the two for one offer (tickets - limited) that was in the newspaper. Try to catch it and see the best Scrooge around, and the finest ghosts currently doing their hauntings in the Berkshires.
◊ 12-01-06 ◊
Performances are at the Boland Theatre on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30PM, Saturdays at 2:30 and Sunday, December 3 at 2:30, now through December 9. For tickets, call the box office at 413-499-1733. Ask about the special promotion.
This production is a co-production by the BCC Players and SMI, Inc.