Review of 2003 "Christmas Carol"

Tuesday December 2, 2003

"Christmas Carol' sings


Theater Review

By Paul Kolas




Written by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Neary, musical arrangements by Jim Rice and Fred Frabotta, special material contributed by Guy Jones. Performances at 2 and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 28 at Foothills Theatre Company, Worcester Common Outlets mall, 100 Front St., Worcester. Tickets $29.50-$35.

With John Davin, Wil Darcangelo, Dawn Tucker, Cory Scott, Shana Carr, Michael G. Dell'Orto, Kevin Brooks, Carol Gallagher, Stephanie Carlson, Colleen Kelley, Andy Rhodes, Steve Gagliastro, Lisa Frechette, Bill Taylor, T.J. Hudspeth, Zachary Smits, Heather Lattuca, Robert Deters, Nicholas Schur, Randy Marquis, Connor Lee, Jake Wetherbee, Meredith Ryer, Gina Lirange, Nathaniel Vilandre and Ben Picard.

WORCESTER- As Foothills' visually rich and textually revised production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" proved on Sunday afternoon, there seems to be no end to the number of dramatic permutations that this seasonal classic can provide. Jack Neary and Guy Jones have mined the story of the world's most famous miser for a somewhat darker social context without losing its wit, humor and redemptive bonhomie.

As the Ghost of Christmas Past (smoothly played by Carol Gallagher) shows us, the origin of Scrooge's intractable and flinty nature can be traced back to the death of his mother, who caught the "chill" from her young, unwitting son. Unforgiven and unloved by his bitter father, his battered adoration is directed toward his beloved sister, Fan, who, in turn, dies in childbirth.

Now the aging Ebenezer is the unforgiving one, refusing his nephew's annual invitations to share Christmas with his family. The love of his life, Belle, has been replaced by his surrogate love of money. What we have here is a textbook example of Victorian dysfunction, with therapy to be administered by the ghosts of Jacob Marley and Christmas Past, Present and Future.

The playwriting changes are most certainly welcome, as they add depth and resonance to an already entertaining, tuneful and instructive moral fable.

Some things, gratefully, don't need to be tampered with, among them Wil Darcangelo's warmhearted turn as Bob Cratchit, Stephanie Carlson's poignant rendering of Belle, Colleen Kelley's riotous volley as Scrooge's chambermaid, Gladys, and Kevin Brooks' supremely benevolent Ghost of Christmas Past.

As brightly as they shine, however, the crown jewel is the return of the formidable John Davin to the role and character he can conjure up with the ease of a spirit showing him the shadows of his past, present and future life.

If anything, his Scrooge is more indelible than ever, spewing vitriol with sadistic pleasure, pointing an accusatory finger with the speed and timing of a cobra, snarling his quarry into silent submission, burping over perceived indigestion. Davin makes the transforming journey of Scrooge a wholly organic one on the strength of his pulsating confidence.

One shares in his joyous (and prankish) spiritual rebirth as he plays on the conditioned responses of Bob Cratchit, nephew Fred, and the townspeople. It's a pleasure to watch an actor with his talent enjoy himself so much, a contagion that happily infects the rest of the cast. Cory Scott wins our empathy as Fred in his resolve to wear down his uncle's blighted exterior and wring out the lost soul within, even when he's mimicking him at a party.

Shana Carr exudes a formal grace and beauty as Fred's wife, Dorothy. Michael G. Dell'Orto is a booming blunderbuss as Jacob Marley, lashing out at his former business partner with unbridled fury and portent. Dawn Tucker (Mrs. Cratchit), Andy Rhodes (Fezziwig), Bill Taylor (Old Joe), Lisa Frechette (Mrs. Fezziwig), Steve Gagliastro (Scrooge's father), T.J. Hudspeth (Gwendolyn), Heather Lattuca (Martha Cratchit), and the cast of young adults and children (Nicolas Schur as Tiny Tim has a well-timed laugh at Scrooge's expense) all contribute effectively to the ensemble.

Equally impressive are the creative efforts of music director Fred Frabotta, who bridges the main narrative with some sweetly sung carols, Wil Darcangelo's spirited choreography, Kurt Hultgren's wonderfully muted pastel costuming, Ed Thurber's evocative sound design, and Laura McPherson's scenic touches, which turn the set into a living Christmas card.


Jack Neary has fashioned a charmer once again.