Chicago Theatre Review
A Streamlined Journey to Redemption
Scrooge and the Ghostly Spirits – Citadel Theatre
Charles Dickens’ famous cautionary tale about the old miser who learns to love Christmas and his fellow man can be found in more variations than ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins. However, for audiences who prefer their story of Scrooge’s journey to redemption to be a little more condensed and streamlined, yet every bit as poignant and meaningful, this version will hit the spot. This original, 90-minute musical by Chicagoan Douglas Post is filled with delightfully familiar characters, as well as plenty of color, lyrical harmony and Christmas cheer to spice up every theatergoers’ holiday season.
Transforming this classic story into a fast-paced stage musical, Mr. Post has eliminated many of the details that sometimes clutter most theatrical productions of Dickens’ famous holiday novella. Instead, he’s chosen to concentrate on the basic plot and primary players. Filling the stage with his crabbiness (and eventual salvation) is Chicago character actor, Frank Farrell. Whether nagging Bob Cratchit, arguing with his nephew Fred or shooing away some charity collectors, Farrell blusters his way around Kristin Martino’s simple, yet versatile Victorian set, finally landing in bed with a bowl of gruel. The show’s extended opening number, “Spirits of the Night,” captures all of the ghostliness that we’ve come to expect. The song ends with Scrooge arriving back at his modest flat on Christmas Eve. After jumping into his nightshirt, he’s visited by Jacob Marley’s Ghost, superbly-sung by talented baritone Erik Dohner. Appearing as a spooky, chain-shrouded ghost, Marley warns Scrooge that he’ll be visited by three more spirits, in his gorgeously sung, “Mankind Was My Business.”
The first to arrive is, of course, the Ghost of Christmas Past, played with pixie-like perfection by Catherine Athenson. She transports Scrooge through various life-changing moments from his childhood and young adult years (the nicely sung “Walk With Me”). We see poor little Ebenezer left behind for the holidays. Soon afterwards in another rousing, full-company production number, Scrooge enjoys reliving the annual holiday party, the “Festivities at the Fezziwigs.” It’s given by his former employer, Mr. Fezziwig, played with high energy by Will Rogers. He also recalls losing Belle, the one true love of his life, play with spirit by Natalie Santoro, with Eric Deutz pure perfection as Young Scrooge. Through these vignettes the audience learns how and why Scrooge became the solitary, miser we come to know.
Rebecca Keeshin is feisty and impressive as the Ghost of Christmas Present. She leads the company with a rousing rendition of “Cornucopia,” while offering Ebenezer a view of the Cratchit family, where his employee Bob (a subtly pleasing performance by Rob Ibanez) celebrates their meager holiday dinner with his wife, gorgeously-played by Monica Szaflik, and their four children, including Tiny Tim, sweetly played by young Luke Chichester. The quietly poignant “God Bless Us” evolves into a number that features the entire Cratchit clan. Scrooge’s final visit is to his nephew Fred’s home, where he partakes in a festive and fast-paced musical “Game of Yes and No.” Fred and his guests are played with bounce and cheerfulness by Preston O’ffill, Maddie Sachs, Matthew Philip Johnston and Coco Kasperowicz.
Scrooge’s final ghostly visitor delivers the story’s darkest moments as the miser comes to realize that his life, as it’s been lived up until now, amounts to nothing. Raising his voice to the heavens, Farrell delivers two soul-searching numbers as he finally recognizes the error of his way. Ebenezer’s redemption on Christmas morning is played out with the ensemble joining him in “Who Was This Man?” and “On Christmas Day.” Everyone lends his voice to a reprise of “Mankind is My Business” and “God Bless Us.”
This production is a more satisfying version of this tale than some, but with fewer details and fine elements than others. The original songs are pleasantly sung by a talented cast; Scott Phelps’ direction serves the story well, as does Benjamin Nichols’ attentive musical direction and Ann Delaney’s chirpy choreography. Paul Kim’s costumes appropriately recall mid-Victorian English society of every age and social standing. His wardrobe change for Scrooge is a special touch that serves as a metaphor for Ebenezer’s transformation. The onstage string ensemble beautifully adds class to Mr. Post’s score, although sometimes they tend to overpower individual voices.
However, for all these criticisms, this is really a truly satisfying holiday vehicle and one that Citadel Theatre might consider as an annual event. It’s fast-paced, yet includes the most familiar plot points and characters from Charles Dickens’ classic. From its fine technical support to a hard-working ensemble, most of whom skillfully play multiple roles, this excellent production of redemption is a welcome new addition to the vast menu of holiday treats to be sampled in Chicagoland.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 15-December 23 by Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL.
Tickets are available at the box office, by calling them at 847-735-8554 or by going to www.CitadelTheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.