Adaptation Of Old Favorite Brings Audience Into The Fun

'Christmas Carol' Comes Alive

December 03, 1991|By Phil Greenfield

True, you don't tamper with success, but when a sure-fire hit falls into your lap . . . well, what's a little experimentation between friends?

When the Colonial Players elected to retire its annual SRO production of production of "A Christmas Carol," the Annapolis Dinner Theater was quick to suggest a change of venue.

With Scrooge, the Crachits, Marley's ghost and the rest all ensconced on U.S. 50 for a Yuletide run, the ADT's "buffet dinner and a show" format has been seasonally modified. Guests now arrive one hour prior to curtain and proceed to sip wassail and munch muffins and rolls till showtime.

Later, as Ebenezer flashes back to the joyous warmth of Old Fezziwig's annual Christmas party, the audience joins in the fun and is served a festive meal by Fezziwig's "guests," courtesy of Scrooge's former employer and his jolly wife. Old Fezziwig will lead you in Christmas carols and greet you personally -- "There are no strangers. Just friends you haven't met yet" -- perhaps four or five times.

Pumpkin and apple pie remnants are cleared away in time forthe arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Present, who then continues tolay the groundwork for the most beloved conversion experience in allof literature.

This is an ambitious production that, all in all, still has a way to go.

The cast is large, the set changes numerousand the logistical problems considerable.

While the trains run ontime, for the most part, the show plays a bit small here at the opening of its run. Individual performances need to settle in, so Dickens' characters can dominate the stage. Pacing must come more from the flow of character than the mere juxtaposition of scenes.

I don't mean to sound pessimistic; there is, indeed, a great deal to enjoy. TheWade-Gessner adaptation is far wittier and more tuneful than the schlock musical version the ADT ran last year. For the most part, thingsare delivered stylishly enough.

Tim King is a suitably dyspeptic fussbudget as Scrooge. He interacts well with his unearthly visitors and his change of heart is all great fun.

However, he seemed more standoffish in his musical numbers. I'd like to hear his "As If It Were Yesterday" again, after he's worked himself into the role more.

Actually, several of the male leads had some vocal problems with Dick Gessner's score.

The songs tend to sit low in the voice and thiscast doubles as a tenor's convention. Grumbles and growls are frequently offered up as replacements for secure lower-range pitches.

David Reynolds is the ADT's pre-eminent scene stealer; his horrific Marley and regal Ghost of Christmas Present are wonderful to watch. Bodily and facially, his characters quickly assume lives of their own.

His accent, however, made me chuckle. Reynolds, who made such a terrific Tevye in the ADT's recent production of "Fiddler on the Roof," apparently is having a bit of trouble leaving the Russian dairyman behind. This Jacob Marley seemed to have come by way of the Ukraine.

The Crachits are all suitably wholesome, and Saturday's Tiny Tim was a real sparkler.

Carol Cohen, Mary Northam and their unnamed male colleague also are deserving of notice for their delightfully morbid account of "One Fine Funeral."

The cast looks and moves well in the ensemble numbers, though "Hill-Ho Chirrup" could easily lose several verses and still be too long.

I also suggest a rethinking of OldFezziwig's choices of carols for his audience sing-along.

I had expected to hear seasonal fare redolent of Dickens' 19th-century London: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and that sort of thing.

What I got was "Jingle Bells," "White Christmas" and "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Only by the grace of God, it seemed, were we spared "Frosty the Snowman" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."

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