VERSAILLES — If you are suffering from a lack of Christmas spirit, drive to Versailles and attend The Woodford Theatre's charming presentation of Leslie Bricusse's Scrooge: The Musical. Based on Dickens' beloved A Christmas Carol, this production will bring a laugh to the lips and a tear to the eye of even the sourest Christmas curmudgeon.
Director Wesley Nelson and designer Damon Farmer have created a storybook setting for the play, which honors Dickens and keeps the scenes flowing at an easy pace. Nelson handles large groups on stage with a deft touch, and the performers respond with disciplined, purposeful movement in the many crowd scenes. Jenny Fitzpatrick's inventive choreography adds much to the lively stage antics, and the musical leadership by Meg Stohlmann and Mary Joy Nelson and costumes by Kirstin Aurelius are well rendered. Tom Willis' lighting design (too dark on the extremities of the stage) and Paul Manning's sound design work in tandem dramatically. In other words, the production staff for this show has teamed to great effect, and this carries over into the performances.
Of course, any Christmas Carol is utterly dependent on the caliber of the actor playing Scrooge. Christopher Baker provides a detailed comic characterization of the miser's journey toward benevolence, making his gradual change credible at every step. Although this role was written for Bricusse's frequent performing collaborator, Anthony Newley, a light baritone, Baker, a lyric bass, handles the high vocal tessitura expertly, using that vulnerable stretch of his voice to color the text with meaning. In the middle of the second act at last Friday's performance (during the second weekend of the show's three-weekend run), his vocal energy lagged, both spoken and sung, but he rallied for a joyous conclusion, making palpable Scrooge's relief at having his soul unfettered at last.
Baker is surrounded with excellent support from the rest of the cast. His scenes with Marley (Terry Withers) feature particularly great staging and acting, with special mention to Fitzpatrick's fabulous quartet of dancing zombies. Tegan Hanks and Adam Razavi enliven the stage with their cameos as the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. Hanks is hilariously daffy, like Glinda the Good Witch on steroids, and the humorously manic Razavi is like a Caravaggio Bacchus come to life.
Cal Harris provides a sweet and plucky Bob Cratchit in a "character voice" that wanders from pitch in his singing, and Susan Rahmsdorff, as his wife, adds deft acting touches that are heartwarming in cumulative effect. Luke Luchtenburg makes an adorable Tiny Tim and sings with a lovely piping voice.
Taylor Coriell plays both Isabel and Helen with fun, lively characterizations, allowing subtle distinctions between the two spunky ingénues, and she serves the music beautifully with a fresh soprano voice. Likewise, Evan Sullivan distinguishes ably between Harry and the young Ebenezer, both of whom he performs with broad-hearted expansiveness and pleasant, warm singing. Whit Whitaker, Peter and Victoria Guy, and Pete Hawley deliver other fine featured moments.
Most admirably, this show manages to be truly endearing and meaningful without being sentimental or cloying, thanks to the earnestness of all involved to tell the familiar story sincerely, from the heart.