Updated: Mar 25
"The Perennial Dickens Classic is Back! And Not Just in Spirit!"
After 37 years of playing various characters in the 1857 classic Dickens holiday favorite, South Coast Repertory founding member and veteran actor, Richard Doyle, steps into the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge in this year’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” a role held and memorialized for forty years by the venerable, now-retired, Hal Landon, Jr. Adapted by Jerry Patch and based on the original staging by John-David Keller, “A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 26th on the Segerstrom Stage in their 41st annual production.
SCR Founding Member Richard Doyle taking over the top hat and scarf as Ebenezer Scrooge has been a natural career progression, having held various roles in the show for over 37 years—not to mention participating in over 200 SCR productions. Star of stage and screen, his extensive career has included many commercial and animation character voices as well. Over a decade ago, Doyle was tapped by “The Pageant of the Masters” in Laguna Beach to be the live show narrator for their unique per annum event, where you may have heard his familiar baritone voice inspiriting the audience at any performance to “enjoy the show.”
Joining him on center stage for this year’s production is his real-life wife, Jennifer Parsons, who replaces Doyle in the fascinating role of the Spirit of Christmas Past, a part he played for three decades. Parsons, also a long-time member of the cast, performed the role of Mrs. Cratchit in the play since 2004.
Hisa Takakuwa, director for SCR’s award-winning Theatre Conservatory, takes the helm as director of “A Christmas Carol” this year, having spent 14 years as assistant director to John-David Keller on Orange County’s annual holiday tradition. Prior to that, she also performed for 14 years in a variety of roles, including Sally.
So, how has this show achieved such notoriety? Well, before all the movies, television adaptations, and stage plays; before the animated versions, the children's theatre versions, and every sitcom's "holiday episode;" before all of this, Charles Dickens wrote a short story called "A Christmas Carol." The story (which only took Dickens six weeks to write) centers upon the redemption of Scrooge, whose very name now epitomizes greed and miserliness, a heartless man of business who seems to thrive on the despair of others. Scrooge offers no pity toward the poor, and his heartless tirade at the esteemed couple who comes collecting for the poor on Christmas Eve (“If they would rather die… they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population”) sticks out as the most incriminating indictment of his character.
Richard Doyle is on stage for almost the entire play providing the show’s driving force and portraying all of the shadings and layers of the character—gruff, conflicted, reflective, joyful and sad. His body language mirrors his emotions, heavy and rough in the beginning—but at the end when Scrooge says he feels as "light as a feather," just watch how Mr. Doyle floats around the stage.
The cast—a splendid group of stage veterans and solid regional actors, many back in their familiar roles—includes Daniel Blinkoff, again heartwarming as Scrooge’s put-upon clerk, Bob Cratchit. His scenes with his family are touching and sincere, and the way he quakes around the stern Scrooge is exactly the way someone with a horrendous boss would react. Art Koustik is back as Joe, the scurrilous cider salesman; and William Francis McGuire’s (Solicitor/Gentlemen) turn as Fezziwig, Scrooge's first employer, is full of life, love and laughter.
Melody Butiu (also a Solicitor) doubles as an incredible, good-humored Mrs. Fezziwig; Michael Manuel is both funereal and great fun as Jacob Marley’s Ghost; and Richard Soto (also a Wreath Seller), is joyous as the earthy, generous and ultra-merry Spirit of Christmas Present.
Tommy Beck plays the Undertaker, and an inflexible Ebenezer as a Young Man; an impressive Sol Castillo returns (also Gentlemen), bringing great sincerity and charm to Scrooge’s ever-hopeful nephew, Fred; Kelsey Bray is Elizabeth Shelley, Fan, sister of Ebenezer, and a Pursued Maiden; Rosney Mauger portrays the apparition of The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, a Constable, a Poulterer, and a Young Jacob Marley; Kelsey Kato is the young bachelor Topper, and a Puppeteer; Erika Schindele is also back as the Laundress, a Scavenger, and a lovely Belle, early sweetheart of Ebenezer; Nick Slimmer is Thomas Shelley; Arman Hamidi and Maximilian Lalli alternate as Oliver Shelley, Ignorance, and Ebenezer as a Boy.
Justine Roussel and ChloeLux Phan alternate as Want, and Young Girl About Town; Zoe Hebbard and Halia Lindauer alternate as Teen Girl About Town; Tamlyn Tomita is perfect wife and mother, Mrs. Cratchit, and a Rich Woman; Paige Lindsey White is Fred’s wife, Sally, a Toy Lady and a Scavenger; and Nicholas Brown and Dylan Gorham alternate as Turkey Boy and the Chimney Sweep.
The Cratchit children are well played alternately by Sofia Mendez and Tessany Azizi as Belinda; Tess Fox and Natalie Bright as Martha; Cooper Latham and Colin Savage as Peter and a Rich Boy; and Maddie Chung and Presley Coogan as an adorable Tiny Tim and a Rich Girl.
His reputation thoroughly preceding him, Mr. Doyle's Scrooge is appropriately cantankerous, yet comedic in his movements, played for laughs as he searches his dark bedroom—the usual places, in the closet, under the bed—for the source of a ghastly noise. Some of the production's best moments live in the hazy space that is under the breath mutterings, when Mr. Doyle gives half spoken thoughts while simultaneously portraying Scrooge thinking them. This is not to say that this "A Christmas Carol" is overly-dramatic and sentimental. Far from it. The production has a surprising amount of humor, with Mr. Doyle teasing loosely with the fourth wall, finding laughs in some very unlikely places.
But when it isn't touching, and it isn't funny, the production is joyous. There is joy in Scrooge's Christmas past at Fezziwig's, joy in the Cratchits' small but sufficient Christmas dinner, and joy in Scrooge's ultimate transformation. And the latter isn't confined to the joy of rediscovering the Christmas spirit, but extends to the joy of simply being alive. And for theatre-lovers, there is the joy of watching a talented and accomplished actor bring the whole story beautifully to life, all with the language of Dickens ringing soundly throughout.
In fact, this straightforward adaptation by Patch plays like CliffsNotes of the Dickens classic. Thus, the physical production could very well be said to be the main star of the show, and it has been created by a trifecta of experts: Thomas Buderwitz (sets), Dwight Richard Odle (costumes), and Kelly Todd (choreography). Mr. Buderwitz’ scenic design—all elaborately designed with canted angles—evokes Ebenezer Scrooge's warped priorities, his slanted mind and steely heart. You can actually even hear the chilly London wind blow through the drafty bedroom where the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future come to take him on his journey.
Mr. Odle's costumes manage to be both period specific and eye catching. He does a particularly good job with the Spirit of Christmas Present, that avatar of the spirit of the season, which Richard Soto plays with winning verve. And although the production is light on singing and dancing outside of a few holiday carols, Mr. Todd and Director Takakuwa keep the large ensemble moving effortlessly and cheerfully throughout the production.
Sound Designer is Drew Dalzell; Lighting Designers are Donna & Tom Ruziko; Musical Arrangements & Composition by Dennis McCarthy; Vocal Direction by Dennis Castellano; Stage Management by Talia Krispel; Casting by Joanne DeNaut, CSA; Artistic Director is David Ivers; Managing Director is Paula Tomei.
Richard Doyle plays Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jerry Patch and directed by Hisa Takakuwa, at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif., through Dec. 26, 2021. Regular performances: Saturdays at 2:30PM and 7:30PM, December 4, 11 and 18; Sundays at NOON and 4PM, December 5, 12, 19 and 26; Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30PM, December 3, 8-10, 14-17, 21-23; Friday, December 24 at 12 NOON and 4PM. Student Matinees: Wednesday, Dec. 1 and Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 11:30AM. An ASL performance is scheduled Saturday, Dec. 4 at 2:30PM.
Running Time: Approximately two hours including one 15-minute intermission. South Coast Repertory is located at 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.scr.org.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Jenny Graham