2 productions offer a `Carol'

The Colonial Players' version edges out one by Musical Artists, but both entertain

Review

December 23, 2005|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Musical versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol drew capacity audiences in Annapolis and Brooklyn Park over the past two weekends, filling nearly every seat at all performances at Chesapeake Arts Center's Studio Theater and at Colonial Players' East Street venue.

Both productions brightened spirits. Colonial's version featured music by Dick Gessner and play and lyrics by Richard Wade, who directed this 25th anniversary edition. Chesapeake Arts Center's updated offering by Musical Artists Theatre, its resident company, featured new music and lyrics by Michael Hulett, who also directed.

Inevitably, there were similarities in the productions, with opening carol-like songs to set the scene of Christmas in Dickens' London. Both followed with upbeat tunes for Ebenezer Scrooge's nephew, Fred, to enliven his uncle's Christmas spirit.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption that appeared on page 3 of the Dec. 23 Anne Arundel edition incorrectly identified an actor in Colonial Players' production of A Christmas Carol. The actor shown in the photo is Austin Luckhardt, who played Scrooge as a boy.
The Sun regrets the error.

As Scrooge emerges from his office to join Londoners on the street, Hulett reprises his opening carol, "Spirit of Christmas," while Wade offers a change of pace, giving Scrooge a funny, gruff "Mind Your Own Business" anthem.

After the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, appears in Scrooge's bedchamber to prepare him for ghosts to follow, Scrooge is taken to his boyhood by the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Scrooge encounters kindly Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig - an ideal opportunity for lively song and dance in both productions. Scrooge then relives the departure of his fiancee, Belle, who sings of their love in one of the best songs in both versions - "In Your World" in Colonial's and "Take My Heart" in Musical Artists' to end Act 1.

A sparse family Christmas dinner scene in Act 2 introduces a Cratchit family song - Colonial's "Bless Us All" and Musical Artists' "A Family Christmas Recipe."

A look into the future enables Scrooge to witness his own funeral, providing upbeat songs for an undertaker, charwoman and laundress to sing as they divide his belongings - "One Fine Funeral" and "It All Comes 'Round."

Finally having learned how to keep Christmas, a reformed Scrooge sings a lively song to end each show on a happy note.

The success of any Carol hinges on the actor playing Scrooge, and both productions featured fine performers who relished their every curmudgeonly scene and created convincing character transformations. Colonial's Jim Reiter brought a free-spirited joyousness, kicking up his heels as he finally learned to celebrate Christmas, and Greg Coale's Scrooge for Musical Artists brought an amusing comic sense to later scenes.

Both productions boasted attractive portrayals of Scrooge's nephew Fred - Jeff Hitafffer at Colonial and Shiraz Noor at Musical Artists.

Musical Artists' Ruth Hulett and Colonial's Sarah Wade displayed excellent singing voices as Scrooge's love, Belle. And the young actors playing Tiny Tim - AJ Atkins and Douglas Hanna - were captivating. Both casts clearly enjoyed their work and communicated their pleasure to audiences.

The edge would go to Colonial Players' version, which seemed like going home for Christmas, and has become a warm Annapolis tradition for cast members who return year after year to play favorite roles.

Topping off the family feeling, the entire cast greeted departing audience members after each performance, with the line stretching through the entire lobby to the street exit.

Jazz in Annapolis

To celebrate the season in a unique way, two legends of the jazz world - saxophonist Jimmy Heath and pianist Junior Mance - will headline "Christmas Jazz in Annapolis," a program of classic jazz mixed with seasonal favorites. Backed by Vince McCool on trumpet, James King on bass and Brooks Tegler on drums, the pair will kick off the show at 8 o'clock tonight in the OnStage Room of Rams Head Tavern at 33 West St. Tickets: 410-268-4545.

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