“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” Ebenezer Scrooge says of the plight of London’s poor in the opening scenes of “A Christmas Carol — The Musical” by The REP, playing for one weekend only at the University of Kentucky’s Guignol Theatre.
Scrooge’s Christmas Eve solution to the suffering of the less fortunate?
“Let them die and decrease the surplus population.”
Michael Breeze delivers a gripping performance as Scrooge, painting his transformation from cold-hearted money grubber to compassionate human being with captivating nuance. It is fascinating to witness Scrooge’s cold exterior gradually melt away, a process that’s especially satisfying in moments of painful revelation and conflict, like when Scrooge wincingly watches the painful, bittersweet memory of his ill-fated engagement to Emily (Rachel Jarrard) during the heartfelt duet “A Place Called Home.”
The scene occurs during one of the show’s most visually lush, foot-stomping settings — Fezziwig’s Ball. Scrooge’s former boss Fezziwig knew how to take care of his workers, as Jacob Karnes demonstrates in one of the evening’s most flamboyant and colorful displays of panache as he, alongside Kellie Sherwood as Ms. Fezziwig and a large ensemble cast of singers and dancers, bring Christmas revelry to a foot-stomping crescendo in “Mr. Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball.”
The above mentioned scenes are good examples of director Robyn Peterman Zahn’s eye for balancing the intimate and the epic in a production of more than 100 cast members.
Big, glitzy ensemble dance numbers, choreographed by Diana Evans Pulliam, weave in and out of the show, balanced by intimate moments among principal cast members that drive the story’s emotional narrative forward. For instance, Tom Hayward and Perry Mains’ tender, heart-soaring duet “You Mean More to Me” as Mr. Cratchit and Tiny Tim poignantly frames the ordinary, private moments of love, moments that are indeed epic in their own right, moments that elude Scrooge. Hayward and Mains’ intimate father/son connection is juxtaposed with Scrooge’s haunted relationship with the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley (played with presence and doomful charm by Carmen Geraci), whose warning to change or face eternal damnation is heralded by an ensemble of chain-clad ghouls in “Link by Link,” one of the evening’s biggest visual and musical spectacles. Kudos to Tony Hardin’s lighting design in that scene, which works in spooky and foreboding tandem with Pulliam’s choreography of the ensemble.
This juxtaposition of the intimate and the epic drive home the grand scale of Scrooge’s transformation, but also suggests the epic nature of the inner struggles similar to Scrooge’s that we all suffer. No, we do not all descend so far into cruelty as Scrooge, but we all must strive to live in the present, and in a world slinging hurts at us, that is not easy.
I was also struck by the foresight of Dickens when thinking about Scrooge’s plight. This is not so much a tale of good and evil, but whether or not to fully engage in life or not, whether to risk having an open heart or not.
One improvement that could be made to the play is a technical one: sound. I am no sound engineer, and didn’t discern any official “glitches,” but there were numerous occasions where I had to strain to hear. The volume was noticeably uneven at times, with supporting performers not being as audible as the leads. In this case, I do not think it was a performance issue but an issue with the sound mix. This did not distract from the integrity of the play or my enjoyment of it, but a more perfect mix would have enhanced it.
On a practical note, the show runs less than two hours, with no intermission, making it an easily digestible family-friendly affair, even for non-musical fans. The pacing never drags and I was pleasantly surprised to be leaving the theater before 9 p.m. I was a little worried about taking my five year old, but he was captivated the whole time. What was the show about? I asked him on the way home.
“It’s about how you should care about people and not care about money,” he said, before adding. “But you should care about money a little.”
IF YOU GO
‘A Christmas Carol — The Musical’
What: The Rep’s production of Michael Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens’ adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ classic.
When: 7 p.m. Sat., 2 and 7 p.m. Sun.
Where: The Guignol Theatre, University of Kentucky Fine Arts Building, 465 Rose St.
Tickets: $23 adults, $18 senior adults, $13 students and children.