CENTERVILLE — Nothing in Utah makes it begin to look a lot like Christmas like a theatrical rendition of Charles Dickens‘s “scary ghost story.” A Christmas Carol penetrates our society like few other stories. Simply mention “Scrooge,” “Tiny Tim,” “Bah Humbug,” or a “God bless us, everyone,” and someone will know what you are talking about and have a favorite memory to share. CenterPoint Legacy Theater in Centerville unveils a spectacular portrayal of this classic story. It is brimming with cheery music, energetic choreography, and endless Christmas cheer. It displays occasional weaker moments from some story choices and indistinct lyrics during songs; however, the Christmas cheer is infectious throughout.
Let me be a theatre Scrooge for a little bit, because soon I’ll be showering praise and good cheer like the Ghost of Christmas Present. The composer Alan Menken and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (the latter of whom also wrote the script with Mike Ockrent) provided my least favorite parts of the show mainly through some of the story choices made. For example, enshrining the three ghosts in three human characters that Scrooge meets on his way home seemed out of place and rather reminiscent of the The Wizard of Oz. Also, the beginning of the play dragged when three uncharacteristically peppy musical numbers were used to draw the audience into Scrooge’s London. Once the ghosts commence their visitations, the plot moves briskly and effectively.
There were also a few problems with the music. The songs lacked diction during big chorus numbers, when the singers really needed to reach a climax, and at the beginning of the duets and trios. The chorus sometimes failed to hit notes with the right force and the recorded track overpowered at times. Fortunately, these problems seemed to lessen over time and soon the singers did very well conveying their message of joy.
Now that I’ve said my “Bah Humbug,” let me spread some cheer like Tiny Tim.
Overall, the chorus did a remarkable job. The show is almost entirely sung, and when I considered the vocal emphasis, I was thoroughly impressed with the final result. The very large cast gave vitality to all the scenes from the ghosts’ visitations. I could see the cheery mood Dickens described regarding “Christmas present” in every actor’s face. Plus, there never was more delightful merriment than the dancing and laughing at “Mr. Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball.”
The young boys and girls filling out the families of London truly stood out in the chorus. While they mostly acted as townspeople, many had vocal solos that left me astounded. Young Scrooge and Fern had such clear voices of longing that I quickly became affected by their yearning for a “Place Called Home.” These young actors set the mood for that recurring theme, which became deeper with every reprise.
From start to finish, the choreography (by Maggy Lawrence) impressed me with its high standards and execution. Starting with the chained male ensemble of Marley’s “Link by Link,” I saw fitting and creative dancing that used clanking chains and rigor mortis motions. Mr. Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball was one the best parties I’ll attend this Christmas, with some of the best partner dances and jigs, and with line dancing I could tap my toes to. The four principal dancers of this show (Katie Frandsen, Chantryce Diehl, Shanalee Harrison, Sarah Wilson) are to be commended for their versatility and execution. They tap danced with stimulating syncopation, floated with the ethereal joyousness coming from the Ghost of Christmas Present’s cloak, and wisped like vapors as the eerie Ghost of Christmas Future showed a bleak path coming for Scrooge.
Chuck Gilmore played an excellent Scrooge and expertly showed his varied emotions, from detachment and pathos to gregarious and enthusiastic. He does well illustrating the change the three Spirits create in Scrooge’s soul. As Gilmore starts, he is confused and angered by being shown such sad childhood memories. He emphatically rebukes the Ghost of Christmas Past for calling Fezziwig’s party a “small thing,” then pensively realizes his own obligations to Bob Cratchit. Finally, nothing delights like the repentant Mr. Scrooge leaping and bounding across the stage at his chance to turn over a new leaf.
Scrooge’s journey was accented by the effects of a talented technical staff. The set (by Scott Van Dyke) filled the stage’s width and depth with brown London architecture that showed the dreariness of the city, but contrasted beautifully with its joyful inhabitants. The open area allowed for all the traffic, parties and dancing that happened, but in the sides had various stores and locales for the masses of London to gather. They were also aided by quickly moved in set pieces and platforms that generated new locations instantly.
Within these byways of London, all levels of society were dressed by costume designer, Tammis Robbins Boam. Scrooge’s gaunt angular face and distinctive dressing gown made him stand out among the throngs of theater actors, beggars, businessmen, and merry makers that thronged him throughout the show. I especially liked the Ghost of Christmas Futures (April Hales) menacing fingers and long specter-like cloak that enhanced the menace of the spirit’s message though every movement.
The cast for the Monday/Wednesday/Friday show was thoughtfully put together. Galen Chatterton provided Marley’s deep timbre for ominous effect in his ghostly warnings. Shaun Gardner and Melanie Mortensen as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig fit Mr. Dicken’s description well, as both had no one surpass their enthusiasm for the party. Kurt Christensen and Jillian Tirado played the young betrothed Scrooge and Emily and later showed up as nephew Fred and his wife. They had clear penetrating voices that showed their love as the betrothed, and later showed the joyous nature of Scrooge’s only relatives. From them the audience receives the last fulfilling chorus of “A Place Called Home.” My heart swelled at the moment—and then the Christmas snow began to fall.
Charles Dickens says at the end of his story that “[Scrooge] knew how to keep Christmas well.” The cast and crew of CenterPoint are sharing the story of how he learned to do so. It is a worthy adaptation that has them honoring Christmas past, present, and future with all their hearts.