A typical review would start with a synopsis of the play. When the play you’re reviewing is A Christmas Carol, a synopsis seems rather superfluous. It’s all here: Ebenezer Scrooge, his nephew Fred, former business partner Marley, and those three pesky ghosts. This time around, we’re given the story with a modern twist. While some of the expected aspects remain the same, lots of them are changed and director Sarah Smith has crafted a funny and engaging production to tell this well known tale.
John Tanner has given a slightly different performance then one might expect. His Scrooge doesn’t seem all that angry from the outset, possibly more sarcastically annoyed than anything else. At times, it works, adding a bit of humor to the first few scenes setting up the present day aspects of our story. However, as the story progresses, the character’s arc becomes harder to pinpoint. It isn’t the simple angry miser to happy-to-be-alive man that we have seen before, which is somewhat refreshing, but there still needs to be a noticeable change, otherwise there aren’t a lot of places for the story to go.
One of the biggest changes is Cratchit being changed to a woman. Robin Cratchit, played by Holly Booth, is a single mom of two kids, Emily and Trisha (this version’s Tiny Tim). Booth was able to create a character that was equal parts mild mannered employee and strong mother figure, especially evident towards the end of the show when demanding better working conditions and benefits from a changed Scrooge.
Three stand out performances from Marley (Dexter Brigham), Christmas Past (Sara Gochenour), and Christmas Present (Michelle Wallace). They each gave an interesting twist to their roles and added some humor to their interactions with Scrooge.
There were a number of line flubs throughout the night and the pacing seemed to lag through some of the longer scenes, but the cast was able to present this new telling of the story well.
It’s not everyday that a community theatre is able to produce a new work, especially written for their theatre, but in this case Michigan native Claire-Frances Sullivan has crafted a new, modern adaptation of this beloved Christmas classic. While there were some interesting changes, the gender swapped Cratchits, as well as flashbacks that took us to the 1970s and 80s, other aspects didn’t quite work as successfully. While it is true that our over reliance on phones is definitely a very 2018 problem, the inclusion of so many references to cell phones and other technology throughout the show added humor in quite a few places where the story could have taken a darker turn. This made me also question what exactly the play wanted to be. Was it going for a more cynical view of the story as to not take it so seriously or was it telling the same tried and true story, with just the addition of those things to firmly place it in the modern day. Either approach would work and could make for an interesting play, but both at the same time muddies the waters a bit too much. And while individual comedic moments worked well, some toward the end of the show, particularly in the future section, were a bit too much. That particular sequence was played almost entirely for laughs, losing a lot of the intensity and emotion that the story needs to make Scrooge’s transformation believable.
Set design by Evan Lewis made significant use of the entire stage, with revolving sections moving back and forth to show us the insides of the various households that Scrooge visits. The set initially was a bit too bland, with most of it looking gray and gloomy, and crew members were frequently visible backstage and in darkened areas of the stage, but made for some interesting transitions as the story progressed. Lighting design, by Stephen Fort, used many bright and vibrant colors to give life to the previously mentioned gray toned set. Some of the lighting cues were a bit off, but overall the lighting was simple and effective. There were several mics on the floor at the front of the stage, but sound was trickier as actors traveled further upstage, sometimes getting a bit lost. This is possibly a combination of sound design as well as lack of projection from the actors, but something that will most likely be remedied as more performances with an audience occur.
Dana Schramm had a daunting job designing costumes for this show, needing to represent the flashbacks to the 1970s and 1980s, several different economic classes of people in the present day, as well as four ghosts. The flashback scenes were well executed with small costume pieces from each era representing where we were in time. She also had fun with each ghost, finding ways to represent each of their very different personalities and go against what our typical expectations would be for those characters.
A holiday classic like A Christmas Carol should be required viewing for anyone. While taking a more modern twist on the story, this Carol still has the Christmas spirit we’re all looking for. Check it out with your entire family and have a great holiday season!
A Christmas Carol runs this weekend only at Midland Center for the Arts. Ticket prices, not including processing fees, are $20 Adult / $16 Student, and can be purchased online, at the ticket office in person, or over the phone at 989-631-8250 or 800-523-7649.