A Christmas Carol the Musical ran each holiday season on Broadway from 1994 until 2003. With music, lyrics and choreography by Broadway and movie legends Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens and Susan Stroman, it was a crowd-pleasing can’t-miss spectacle, full of humor and heart. It would be silly to expect Broadway spectacle to transfer to the community theater stage; still, 2nd Star Productions’ version holds tight to the show’s humor and heart.
Things started off slowly on opening night, mostly because of an obvious disconnect between the singers and dancers awaiting their musical cues, and the orchestra, whose timing seemed to be lagging. But when the timing picked up and everyone could commit to their entrances, both the orchestra and the singers — especially in the ensemble numbers — sounded excellent together.
Director Brian Douglas stages the show effectively for the relatively small Bowie Playhouse stage, keeping the action moving with brief scene changes and actors nicely navigating his two-story set. The top level: Ebenezer Scrooge’s bedroom, with his living room below, from which Dickens’s most known character is brought to humility by the spirits.
Gene Valendo’s Scrooge is perfectly shrunken and bent, his deep singing voice a nice match to the meanness of Nothing to Do With Me as well as the heartfelt contrition of Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today.
The rest of Dickens’s iconic characters are all here as well, from Marley’s ghost (Brian Binney with a well-sung Link By Link, as Marley warns Scrooge of the travails ahead) to Bob Cratchit (a very touching and sincere Joshua Hampton), to a lively Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig (Eric Meadows and Spencer Kate Nelson, bringing the joy of Scrooge’s earlier life to Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball) and Tiny Tim, (a nice performance by Delaney McGinniss).
Most of the cast play multiple roles, with special mention going to Rhonda Bentley-Wardlaw, who plays a blind hag treated nastily by Scrooge. More specifically, special mention goes to the use of her hand, which Wardlaw bends so eerily and steadily as she points Scrooge to his fate that it deserves a spotlight of its own.
Allison Erskine’s Ghost of Christmas Past brilliantly performs the touching Lights of Long Ago as she guides Scrooge through his memories. As the Ghost of Christmas Present, John Wakefield’s bombastic humor and booming baritone bring a unique liveliness to the “jolly giant,” as Dickens described him, as he gregariously moves Scrooge around the city to see how all the poor among him can live in squalor yet have full hearts. Wakefield’s singing of Abundance and Charity with the ensemble is infectious not just to the audience but also to the other actors around him, and closes Act I with a Broadway-like bang.
I should also mention that this show came together even as 2nd Star — and the local theater community as a whole — lost two of its stalwarts less than two weeks before opening. Marty Hayes appeared in many shows at Bowie Playhouse and in Annapolis, and was the husband of 2nd Star Productions co-founder Jane Wingard; Garrett Hyde was technical director at the Bowie Playhouse, responsible for many years of award-winning lighting and effects for the theater companies that produced shows there.
While “the show must go on” is a cliché, it’s not easy to do when you lose two who were so close to so many.
Congratulations to the cast, crew and company for, even as they grieved over these heartbreaking deaths, bringing energy and life to this universal story.
About one hour, 45 minutes with one intermission. Playing thru Dec. 14 FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, plus 3pm Dec. 14, The Bowie Playhouse, $25 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.