If this past year has turned you into a miserable pessimist like Ebenezer Scrooge, the positive lesson in A Christmas Carol, a novella by Charles Dickens, just may influence your New Year’s resolution of 2013. But additional effects such as the music and sound design of the Long Beach Playhouse’s performance made the plot dramatic, festive and even spooky.
The play takes place in London in 1843 on the night of Christmas Eve. Scrooge (Dan Rodgers) a wealthy, mean-spirited, greedy man is working at his place of business when his nephew Fred Hallowell (Robert Jewell) pays a visit to invite Scrooge to a dinner party. He coldly refuses. When Hallowell wishes him a Merry Christmas, Scrooge cries out with disgust, “Bah! Humbug!” Humbug is another term for nonsense or fraud.
Two brokers (Nicholas Woodall and Dax Geary) also visit to ask for a charity donation. Scrooge replies that the only charities he supports are prisons and workhouses. He refuses to give any money away.
Soon after, Scrooge’s clerk Bob Cratchit (Rick Reischman) requests to have Christmas day off. Although Scrooge is very dissatisfied, he allows Cratchit to spend that day with his family.
As soon as Scrooge is ready for bed, he is abruptly visited by his deceased business partner Jacob Marley (Steven Shane). Marley is covered in chains that are symbolic for his greed and selfish acts he made when he was alive. He warns Scrooge that his fate will be the same unless he redeems himself from this moment forward.
Scrooge is then visited by three spirits: the Spirit of Christmas Past (Taylor Magee), the Spirit of Christmas Present (Skip Blas) and the Spirit of What is Yet to Come. These three spirits take Scrooge to his past memories that explain how his personality molded over time, how people currently view him and what will occur if he does not change his ways.
Other characters include Cratchit’s family: Tiny Tim (Jaren Rhodes), Belinda (Hannah Smith), Mrs. Cratchit (Kellee Elizabeth) and Martha (Emily Ludlow); Mr. Fezziwig (Nicholas Woodall), the jovial merchant whom Scrooge apprenticed; Fan (Hannah Smith), Scrooge’s sister and Belle (Emily Ludlow), Scrooge’s ex-fiance.
The actors were a combination of Playhouse veterans and those making their first appearances on its stage. Rhodes and Ludlow had never been a part of a production at the Playhouse, but they performed as if they’d been there for years. Rhodes, age 11, had a lot of enthusiasm as the hopeful child he was portrayed to be. Ludlow played multiple characters with very different personalities. If I hadn’t glanced at the cast list, I would never have noticed they were all performed by one talented actress.
Director Gregory Cohen had the unique idea to have the characters interact with the audience, making it more comical and celebratory for people of all ages. Sometimes, we were directed to sing Christmas carols. Other times, the characters would be in the middle of a conversation when they’d interrupt the scene and ask an audience member a question like, “Have you seen my Tiny Tim?” or “Did you understand any of that?”
Musical Director and Choreographer Kysa Cohen had the characters, at one point, bring up several audience members to come onto the stage and join the scene where Scrooge is looking back on the party he danced at with Belle. Although some of them had obviously stepped out of their comfort zones, everyone was wearing a smile- whether they were enjoying the moment or they were absolutely embarrassed.
When Marley appeared on the set, he was covered in chains, wearing make-up that looked deadly. Sound Designer Sean Gray made his appearance stand out by having the cast back-stage scream and wail while shaking chains and beating drums after every step he took. Since he first entered right behind my seat, which was in the back, I was the first to be terrified by his horrendous scream, “SCROOOOOOGE!”
Lastly, the Spirit of What is Yet to Come was done ingeniously, but I don’t want to ruin all the surprises.
Performances are at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays and 2pm on Sundays up until Dec. 23 at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5201 E. Anaheim St. Adult tickets are $24, seniors are $21 and students are $14. Tickets are available by visiting lbplayhouse.org or calling (562) 494-1014, option 1.