After 45 years of staging Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol around holiday time, the folks at Glendale Centre Theatre have learned how to do Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim right. Brenda Dietlein’s adaptation, with original music and lyrics by Steven Applegate and Byron Simpson, is bright, funny, tuneful, faithful to the original, and never dull or stodgy.

What sets this Christmas Carol apart from many other productions (and makes it a treat for even the “Scroogiest” of audience members), is its delightfully sly sense of humor—the way poor Bob (James Betteridge) struggles to warm his hands against the most pitiful of candles, the way Scrooge (Mario Di Gregorio) casually tosses nephew Fred’s Christmas present in the trash bin not once but twice, the way Fred (Kelly Flynn) blithely scatters several of his uncle’s beloved pound notes from desktop to the floor upon exiting … 

Di Gregorio’s amusing Ebenezer Scrooge owes more to Mr. Magoo than to Alistair Sim, George C. Scott, or Patrick Stewart (to name just three of the many actors who’ve played the curmudgeonly miser), and Tim Dietlein’s sprightly direction puts the emphasis on Scrooge’s comedic side. It doesn’t take this Ebenezer long to get into the swing of things once his tour of Christmases Past, Present, and Future has begun, and his tendency to forget that he’s invisible leads to numerous droll moments. Old Scrooge attempts to coach his younger self’s box-moving race with young Jacob Marley (Christopher Gomez), and to cue him in to Jacob’s cheating—to no avail.  When young “Eben” (Patrick McMahon) tells girlfriend Belle (Christa Hamilton) that “It’s not Christmas, it’s business!”, old Scrooge makes a futile attempt to give his younger self advice. When Bob Cratchit’s oldest daughter Martha (Tracey Thomas) plays hide-and-go-seek with Daddy, once again Scrooge pipes in with her whereabouts, but of course she can’t hear him. He does the same when party guests play a Victorian version of 20 Questions. Funniest of all are invisible Scrooge’s efforts to keep his seat at the Cratchits’ Christmas party. First someone plops herself down on the chair where he’s comfortably settled, then someone else whisks the bench he’s sitting on right out from under him.

Other comic moments include Young Scrooge and Young Marley’s sword fight—with brooms, old Scrooge’s ineffectual efforts to find a dance partner at the party given by old Fezziwig (Don Woodruff) (none of his prospective partners can see him), and the “standup comedy” routine of the two charity solicitors (a hilarious Joey Elrose and Paul “Radar” Reese). Oh, and there’s a clever MGM’s The Wizard Of Oz twist at the end of the show.

Angela Wood and Glendale Costumes have done their usual bang-up job of costuming the cast, with particular mention due the creepy chains hanging from all over the body of Marley’s ghost (James Warnock), the glowing white gown and sparkly scepter of the Ghost of Christmas Past (Cynthia Stults), the rich green velvet robe and foaming beaker of the Ghost of Christmas Present (Tim Dietlein), and the scary black robe and long boney fingers of the faceless Ghost of Christmas Future (Gomez). 

Applegate and Simpson’s lovely original songs, like the one sung by Boy Scrooge (Travis Dietlein) and the love song performed by Young Scrooge and Belle, alternate with classic Christmas carols. Stults performs a gorgeous “What Child Is This” and assembled groups of carolers sing other favorites throughout the show.  In addition to the singing (kudos to the cast for their melodic harmonies), there are several bright and bouncy dance numbers, including a cheerful Christmas jig at Fezziwig’s holiday gathering.

The production looks great.  There are terrific fog effects, thunder and lighting, and a great echo effect to accompany old Marley’s voice. As always, cast members move set pieces on and off GCT’s in-the-round stage with perfectly timed and choreographed swiftness. (There’s a particularly effective set change for the graveyard scene accompanied by loads of stage fog.)

The cast couldn’t be better, and only its size prevents me from giving individual kudos to each and every one. In addition to those already mentioned, the talented ensemble includes Marcy Agreen, Amanda Reed Bailey, Ellorin Joy Davis (laundress), Jaymes Dietlein (Want), Camille Gibney (Little Fan), Elise Gibney, Asher Gilbert (Tiny Tim), Greg Hardash, Kate Landro (Mrs. Fezziwig), Tosca Minotto (Mrs. Cratchit), Bridget Pugliese (Topper’s girl), Paul Reid, Alison Robertson (Fred’s wife), Selby Schnobrich (Carol Cratchit), Rebecca Thomas (Belinda Cratchit), Tracey Thomas, Kira Whitaker (Diana Cratchit), and Jeremy Jason Zadoorian (Peter Cratchit). Travis Deitlein doubles as the boy in the courtyard, Elrose as Topper, McMahon as a very creepy undertaker, Warnock as Jenkins, and Woodruff as Old Joe.  Tim Dietlein, McMahon, Robertson, and Elrose narrate the tale throughout the evening.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without A Christmas Carol, and it wouldn’t be Christmas in Glendale without Glendale Centre Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. Children and adults alike are sure to enjoy this well-acted, well-sung, well danced, and well-directed production, a highlight of this or any year’s holiday season.

Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale. 

–Steven Stanley
December 21, 2009

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