A Christmas Carol

Adapted by Jeff Pitcher, based on the book by Charles Dickins
Performed by Michael Rawley as Scrooge et al
Directed by Susan Ferley
Grand Theatre Production
London, Ontario
November 19 to December 24, 2008
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Evil Ebenezer becomes Good Old Ebbie

London’s Grand Theatre is opening its doors to kids with this production of A Christmas Carol. While the whole family will enjoy this play, it’s definitely geared to keep children enthralled.

Most notable is the elaborate set. An old English streetscape draped with snow sits along each side of the stage, while the centre revolves. Each time the stage turns around, a new set appears, complete with all the details of the different homes – Scrooge’s run-down abode, Bob Cratchit’s humble home and nephew Fred’s elaborate mansion, as well as Scrooge’s office. Credit goes to the crew for getting the stage turned and all the props changed. As the run of the show continues, the changes should get faster, with fewer noisy bumps as furniture is moved.

Also notable are the special effects. Marley’s ghost appears out of nowhere, and even rises up as he is angered. Doors and windows open as the spirits come and go. The spirits’ voices are amplified with special effects to make them sound especially scary and haunting.

Costumes are elaborate and well done, with beautiful ornate gowns for the wealthy girls, and worn-out fabrics for the Cratchit family. Attention to detail is shown with complete changes when an actor becomes a different character. The extra effort is appreciated when complete changes with wigs are used to show that a different character is being portrayed.

Michael Rawley makes an interesting Scrooge. He plays the cantankerous and miserable Scrooge very well – even showing a nasty, sarcastic side. Kids will love the way he mimics others in a whiny voice. Rawley has great fun showing Scrooge’s terror as the apparitions appear, and after his epiphany, he becomes a silly Scrooge. Never has a transformed Scrooge had so much fun. Children were giggling at his antics throughout the theatre on opening night. The sight of Scrooge, jumping up and down on the four-poster bed, so that his head pops up above the canopy frame with each jump was hilarious. Giddy with laughter, Scrooge decides that he wants to be called Ebbie!

This production marks the return of three High School Project (HSP) Alumni. Ben Sanders, who was Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof (and in three other HSP) plays Peter Cratchit, the undertaker and other characters. Sanders makes a very pleasant, youthful Cratchit boy. Mark Uhre was in the original HSP West Side Story. Here he plays the young Scrooge, as well as Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, giving him a very sunny disposition. Callandra Dendias was Molly in the HSP Hello, Dolly! In this production, she plays a delightful Martha Cratchit, as well as others.

Two area children add to the cast: nine-year-old Caitlin Cahill of Delaware is excellent as Molly Cratchit and a ghostly Spirit of Christmas Past. Katherine Gray, age seven, is an endearing Tiny Tim.

Completing the line-up of actors are Laura Condlin as Mrs. Cratchit and others, Kelly Handerek as a hilarious Fezziwig/Toggett/Topper, David Leyshon as Bob Cratchit, Julie Martell as Belle/Mary, George Masswohl as Marley/Christmas Present, and Stephanie McNamara as Mrs. Togget/Mrs. Fezziwig/Mrs. Dilber.

Cast members sing together in beautiful a cappella harmony on the street, demonstrating the reason behind the title, A Christmas Carol, as snow gently falls on them.

So while this show is intended for families, and Scrooge will hold the children’s interest, we wonder if Charles Dickens’ original message about the true spirit of Christmas will shine through. If the positive significance is lost behind the silly antics, young audiences will, at least, understand that being grumpy and greedy is bad!

And then maybe they’ll remind a few adults that being grouchy, irritable, and stingy is not in spirit of Christmas!

A Christmas Carol continues at the Grand Theatre in London until December 24. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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