REVIEW: "A CHRISTMAS CAROL" — Rose Center Theater
Updated: Dec 10, 2022
“No space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused”
― Charles Dickens
WESTMINSTER CA—DECEMBER 2, 2022
There is not, in all literature, a book more thoroughly saturated with the spirit of its subject than Dickens’ 1843 “A Christmas Carol,” and there is no book about Christmas that can be counted its peer. To follow old Scrooge through the ordeal of loving discipline whereby the ghosts arouse his heart is to be warmed in every fiber of your mind and body with a gentle, affectionate Christmas glow.
As you turn its magical pages, you hear the midnight moaning of the winter wind, the soft rustle of the falling snow, the rattle of the hail on naked branch and window-pane and the far-off tumult of tempest-smitten seas; but there also comes a vision of snug and cozy rooms, close-curtained from night and storm, where lamps burn brightly, and the sound of merry music mingles with the sound of merrier laughter, and all is warmth and kindness and happy content.
People love the idea of second chances, and it is quite possibly the ultimate tale of redemption. But it’s not just a classic story of the redemption of a miserly old man, it’s also a tale about children, and not just the too-good-to-be-true Tiny Tim and the other small Cratchits. Boys and girls appear everywhere in its pages, including street urchins, schoolmates, the young Scrooge and his sister, and the lad who helps Scrooge in his first post-transformation good deed.
And how deep is the impact when we see the miserable Scrooge, crouching on his own grave, at the feet of the Spirit, or when he sees poor Bob Cratchit kneeling at the bedside, mourning over Tiny Tim, while gazing with faltering terror on a makeshift casket.
The book has the distinction of being the most adapted novel ever written, with 66 stage adaptations, 31 live action films, and other derivative works, including 11 animated films, 36 animated TV series, 47 TV movie versions, 29 TV series, 4 direct-to-DVD productions, 25 adapted radio plays, 14 audiobooks, 4 operas, 3 ballets, 2 comic strips, 15 graphic novels, 17 different parodies, 2 video games and one podcast. Everyone from Hal Landon Jr., Richard Doyle, F. Murray Abraham, Patrick Stewart, Tony Randall, Roddy McDowell, Kelsey Grammer, Roger Daltrey, Basil Rathbone, Albert Finney, and even Mr. Magoo has played the old miser in various form or fashion over the years.
Newly arrived to these shores is Mike Ockhert’s stage adaptation of this timeless classic at the beautiful Rose Center Theater in Westminster, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, masterly directed and musically directed by Tim Nelson, who also stars as an arresting, larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present. With a wondrously talented cast, the play is now dispensing holiday cheer, a moral lesson or two, and the occasional spine-tingling chill in their latest RCT Musical Theater Professional Series offering.
As the story goes, Ebenezer Scrooge (a delightfully cantankerous Cliff Senior), the most miserly man in Victorian London, has amassed a vast fortune through his business of money lending, but he has no friends, and certainly no use for such things as kindness, love, or generosity. Scrooge’s meek and long-suffering bookkeeper, Bob Cratchit (Garrett Brown, replacing Vincent Aniceto for this performance), knows this full well. Of course, Scrooge finds the annual “Ho! Ho! Ho!” of the Christmas holiday nothing more than a waste of time.
Things change one Christmas Eve when Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley (Chris Captuo). Condemned for his own wicked time on earth, Marley offers Scrooge the possibility of a different path, via the upcoming visitations of three spirits. These souls will try to teach the dour Ebenezer the error of his ways by showing him the person he used to be, and the person he is doomed to become. That is, unless he resolves to become a better man.
Director Nelson, along with choreographers Jennifer Simpson-Matthews and Diane Makas, has taken the basic elements of both Dickens work and Mr. Ockhert’s book and expanded on various points to make this show stand on its own. Chief of these additions is giving Scrooge a more tragic back story—one only hinted at by Dickens—which helps to show why money has become a god to him at the expense of all else.
Also expanded are the characters of Scrooge’s beloved sister Fan (played by Angie Marie Franco at age 10 and Victoria Lavoie at age 14), and Belle (Chloe Hubbard)—the woman he loved and lost while young (Maxwell Kaufman plays Young Scrooge).
Cliff Senior makes a potently fascinating Ebenezer Scrooge in this version. He believably brings forth the character’s long-held bitterness and disdain, while showing his transformation as he seeks redemption for himself and forgiveness from those he has wronged. Mr. Senior plays the final scenes as a man almost giddy with delight. Most affecting is the moment when Scrooge comes face to face with the child he once was and wishes he could spare him what is to come.
Charlie Firlik simply steals the show as Cratchit’s enfeebled son, Tiny Tim. A young actor with an already impressive resume (Simba in “The Lion King,” Artful Dodger in “Oliver”), his entrance and soft speech is guaranteed to bring a tear to even the most crotchety audience member. Mr. Brown’s scenes with Charlie are particularly moving.
Other wonderful standouts include Kristin Henry’s portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Past enduring Scrooge’s bellowing grumpiness as she attempts to lead him to reconsider his various missteps; Cat Valentine as the Ghost of Christmas Future was also astounding, as the more silent, ominous spirit of the three — faceless, swathed in dark cloak and gliding eerily. Director Nelson’s Christmas Present was a sharp contrast to both, bringing high energy to the scene with infectious laughter as he teased and mimicked Scrooge, yet displayed impressive ire when angered.
The entire ensemble excelled in their parts, but particular distinctive praise goes out to Maura Lefevre as Mrs. Cratchit, Randall Goddard and Lauren Belt as Mr. & Mrs. Fezziwig, Teresa Orr as Mrs. Mopps, Darien Rorick as Young Marley, Brett Popiel and Kylie Matthews as Fred and Sally Anderson, and the young Scrooges: Analeigh Singhi & Taven Blanke.
The sets, also by Chris Caputo, a combination of projection and tall building facades representing retail and domestic landscapes, were well done and added much to the story-telling, laying the thematic foundation about the illumination of a selfish, closed-off man, transformed after discovering the rewards of altruism, compassion and community. And Jenny Wentworth’s spot-on, picturesque period costumes helped create character and set appropriate tone.
The score by Mr. Menken (with lyrics by Ms. Ahrens) is the production's major drawing card. a succession of ballads, waltzes and anthems that, whatever the circumstances, never forsake a basic spriteliness. Musically speaking, Mr. Menken is an optimist, which sometimes puts him at odds with Dickens but probably makes him the right man when it comes to spreading good cheer. And Ms. Ahrens keeps her lyrics simple, intelligent and easy to cipher.
With abundant good cheer, the final act revels in Scrooge’s newfound holiday spirit, then revels some more, then continues reveling until the production becomes a kind of glitter bomb of holiday festivity. After two-and-a-quarter hours, it sends you back out on All American Way in a sprightly mood. Joy to the world, indeed.
ROSE CENTER THEATER PRESENTS, A CHRISTMAS CAROL; Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; Book by Mike Ockhert; Director and Music Director: Tim Nelson. Choreography: Jennifer Simpson-Matthews; Additional Choreography: Diane Makas; Costume Designer: Jenny Wentworth; Technical Director/Scenic, Lighting and Projection Designer: Chris Caputo.
STARRING: Cliff Senior, Kristin Henry, Tim Nelson, Cat Valentine, Vincent Aniceto (Garrett Brown – opening night), Charlie Firlik. FEATURING: Lauren Belt, Chris Caputo, Randall Goddard, Chloe Hubbard, Maxwell Kauffman, Kylie Matthews, Brett Popiel. WITH: Charlie Firlik, Maura Lefevre, Taven Blanke, Susann Cellier, Taven Blanke, Megan Chan, Ian Cherrington, Judy Ann Davilla, Erica Duane, Erik Duane, Angie Marie Franco, Zariah Merrill, Eric Hearn, Collin Higgins, Jamie Hoover, Scott Gordon Juhl, Matt Kim, Rachel Giradet, Victoria Lavoie, Jillian Matthews, Ava Melgoza, Zariah Merrill, Teresa Orr, Darien Rorick, Emily Salo, David Schroeder, David Schroeder, Analeigh Singhi, Sydney Sublette, Cheyanne Taylor, Natasha Teiman, Sandra Aniceto, Iris Choi, Jaime Hoover, Landon Mariano, Sharon Barnard, Hannah Robert, Rachel Strysik, Makayla Firlik, Laurel Brookhyser, Hailey Choi, Angel Dumapias, Abigail Garcia, Bonnie King
ORCHESTRA: Tim Nelson, Pierre-Louis Nguyen, Emily Pendergast, Gabriel Lopez, Carolyn Hanson, Joshua Mori, Evan Nelson, Grey Dowdy, Lukas Tolly, Steven Kallestead, Ana Flores.
“A Christmas Carol” runs December 2nd through December 18th with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30PM and Sundays at 2PM at Westminster Rose Center Theater, 14140 All American Way, Westminster CA and featured an opening night gala with an extra-long intermission filled with entertainment, drinks and sweet delights as well as hors-d'œuvres delivered on platters by roaming waiters.Tickets may be purchased at www.rosecentertheater.com.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Ryan Salazar