WINDY CITY TIMES
||THEATER REVIEW A Christmas Carol
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
This article shared 4383 times since Wed Dec 2, 2015
Playwright: Mike Ockrent ( book ), Lynn Ahrens ( lyrics ), Alan Menken ( music ). At: Quest Ensemble, 1609 W. Gregory Ave. Tickets: 312-458-0895; www.questensemble.org; free ( reservations recommended ). Runs through: Dec. 20
Several dozen kids under 10 years old were well-behaved during a matinee of A Christmas Carolalways a good sign. I learned later that some belonged to a kids' theater program and, so, had built-in showbiz interest. Even so, there's much to recommend in this Quest production, which utilizes effective puppetry and live music as other Quest shows have done. The songs have pleasant music and intelligent lyrics that work hard at storytelling, as one would expect from the award-winning authors.
Still, I must admit my prejudices. Any 90-minute version of A Christmas Carol with songs and dances necessarily is a significant diminishment of the original, simplified and/or dumbed-down for family audiences. The 1951 British film version, starring Alistair Sim, remains the all-time champ Xmas Carol adaptation because it's told without songs and dances, it's scary and it doesn't forget that Dickens wrote the tale for adults. It, too, is only about 90 minutes, but its depth of character development and story detail is much greater.
That being said, this musical version is reasonably faithful to Dickens, but it rushes through story and character points so quickly that it must bewilder those not yet overly familiar with the tale, or familiar with life in 1840s London. There are numerous small changes ( example: there are fewer Cratchit children ), some of which add value to the piece and others which do not. I'm pleased that Dickens' reference to ignorance and want ( generally represented by an emaciated boy and girl ) remains intact because it's the story's most profound cautionone which regrettably remains truer today than it was 170 years ago.
My largest complaint about this adaptationand some others I've seen over timeis its religiosity, which definitely is not in the Dickens original. The adapters manage to squeeze a priest, monks and angels into the proceedings and actually have Scrooge sing, "To God I pray." No! A Christmas Carol is a Christian tale, but it isn't a religious one. Dickens seldom invokes the Deity and has only one oblique reference to Jesus.
Kent Joseph, with a rich bass voice, makes a towering and effective Scrooge, capably supported by a large cast mostly doubling and tripling in small roles. It's confusing, however, to have Young Scrooge ( Stephen Garrett ) reappear in so many other bit parts. The vocal and instrumental musicianship is excellent under Gary Powell's direction. Choreographer Dennis J. Murphy makes non-dancers move in spritely fashion. The miniature Ye Olde London setting ( Nick Rupard, also puppet designer ) has charm. Director Andrew Park's staging is simple, low-tech and intimate. I suppose this is a fine rendition for younger children, even if it's a speed-dating version of A Christmas Carol. And it's free!
This article shared 4383 times since Wed Dec 2, 2015
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