By Dale King
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the author’s legendary tale of a wretched money-hoarding soul who finds lifesaving redemption with help from ghostly apparitions who appear to him on a fateful Christmas Eve in 1840s London, is back in Palm Beach County, offering a spirited lift to folks looking forward to the arriving holiday season.
The famed fable opened last week at the Lake Worth Playhouse with a pre-show serving of eggnog, cookies and Christmas carols to set the mood for the evening’s packed-house performance.
There’s something slightly different about the show itself. Director Rae Randall and fellow artist John Carlile have added three 19th-century British writers, Charles Dickens (portrayed by John Carlile), Wilkie Collins (Myles Asay Frazier) and Charlotte Brontë (Nancy Dickenson), to the stage as narrators – a brilliant move initiated by LWP Artistic Director Dan Eilola. The trio broadens the scope of the tale and adds depth and intensity to the production.
The show also has added more holiday and incidental music, including two original tunes, “A Baby’s Song” and “Tiny Treasures.”
Director Randall has assembled a large and delightful cast of adults and young people for the seasonal chestnut about penny-pinching miser Ebenezer Scrooge and the awakening of his long-forgotten festive spirit. Every player gives his or her all to make the drama work – and it is done delightfully well. Many players take on multiple roles with finesse.
Brandon Goldsmith, a seasoned actor with wonderful stage presence, even in his nastiness, is top-notch as Ebenezer Scrooge – a character that’s so well-known, even his surname has become synonymous with stinginess. The LWP adds more interaction with the children via song and story, ramping up the entertainment factor and making the reformative adventure more family oriented. In the process, virtually all of Dickens’ vivid original prose remains.
The cast does well to create the “feel” of Scrooge’s office, a sparse enclosure as cold as the old man’s heart. As the show opens, the skinflint fends off a “Merry Christmas” greeting and wreath from his nephew, Fred (John Larcombe) and tosses out a couple of ladies seeking alms for the poor.
Thankfully, Dickens’ original lines come through, underscoring Scrooge’s harsh demeanor as well as the horrid living conditions on the streets of London, circa 1843, when the original short novel was published. He berates the needy, saying they should be in debtor’s prisons. The sick “should die and reduce the surplus population.” He constantly humbugs Christmas, calling it “a time to find yourself a year older and not an hour richer.”
Perhaps the most shocking ghostly visitor is the first lost soul, Scrooge’s former partner, Jacob Marley (Joe Novellino), “dead seven years this very night,” meaning Christmas Eve. Sporting a white beard and bound by heavy chains, he warns Ebenezer to heed the message of a ghostly trio that will visit his frigid abode this night.
The ghosts, arriving one by one, take Scrooge and the audience through the stingy man’s early years, showing how this lonely boy became a jaded man, seeking only money and scorning friends, relations – like his sister, Fan (Arianna Newton), his festivity-filled employer, Fezziwig (Allan Hunter), and his fun-loving wife, Mrs. Fezziwig (Nancy Dickenson). The story says these folks really knew how to party – a capability Scrooge lost somewhere in his deep past.
Plaudits to makeup artist Maya Suchy and costume designers Jill Williams and Joanne Deprizio for contributing greatly to the overall visual design. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Leah Teebagy) presents herself angelically, with a ceramic-white visage, lavender hair and flowing, white skirt. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Carl Barber-Steele) is caped and cowled and carries a holiday-lighted staff. The narrators tell us the ghost takes flight with Scrooge to show him that people celebrate Christmas throughout the world.
The Ghost of Christmas Future (Kylie St. Clair) is a tall and thin figure in black robe and hood. He leads a frightened Scrooge around uncertain terrain by pointing the way with a gnarled finger, stopping at what appears to be Scrooge’s grave. The miser’s heart-wrenching reaction may indicate that his harsh heart is softening.
While the content of the story is pretty much old news, the presentation is sparkling. The acting issharp, even among the youngsters, particularly Zachary Lieberman as Tiny Tim, who speaks the most memorable line in the play, “God bless us, every one.”
The full cast gathers on stage for the finale to celebrate two changed souls: the newly generous Scrooge and Tiny Tim, cured of his former crippling condition.
A Christmas Carol is being presented through Dec. 3 at the Lake Worth Playhouse, 713 Lake Ave., Lake Worth Beach. For tickets, call 561-586-6410 or visit www.lakeworthplayhouse.org.