— It’s tough to bah-humbug a well-put-together performance of Charles Dickens’ great story of giving, love and redemption, A Christmas Carol, no matter how often you see it. It’s even tougher to be cynical at this year’s production from Dallas Theater Center, thanks to an especially thoughtful staging by Christie Vela, making her directing debut at DTC (she was the show’s assistant director last year).
This new script by Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty debuted three years ago when the annual production was moved to the Wyly Theatre. His adaptation makes a significant change from the novella in that Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley run an industrialized factory manned by adult and child labor, rather than a counting house. That change makes a bigger political statement about the working poor and compassion, balanced by a personal journey of redemption as Scrooge is shown life anew via his late partner Marley and three other spirits.
Vela sensitively highlights the human relationships in the Cratchit family and with Scrooge’s nephew Fred (Brandon Potter) and his friends; and the pay-off is even more compelling than the warm-fuzzies this holiday story delivers every year. But there are spectacular special effects and spooky sequences, too. It is A Ghost Story of Christmas, after all.
Brierley Resident Acting Company member Hassan El-Amin makes his debut as Scrooge in an inspired casting choice. There is no effort to age him as much as with some the previous Scrooges, which makes him less of a crotchety old man and more a bitter workhorse and intimidating authority figure. After his journey with the spirits, and his revelation at the true meaning of Christmas, his happy dance is worth the price of admission.
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DTC’s production always switches members of its acting company and local actors through the satellite roles, and this year’s mix is the show’s best ensemble I can remember since first seeing it at the old Arts District Theater as a high school student in the 1980s.
There’s a priceless moment in which Bob Cratchit (Cameron Cobb) and his youngest son, Tiny Tim (Chistena Adkins at the performance reviewed; alternates with Ava Hignite) give a well-timed look at Mrs. Cratchit (Traci Elaine Lee). The decision to make the Ghost of Christmas Past (Lydia Mackey) Scrooge’s mother gives those scenes another affecting layer.
The loving relationship between Fezziwig (Chamblee Ferguson) and Mrs. Fezziwig (Liz Mikel, who also makes a funny Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s maid) shines through. There’s a beautiful connection between Young Scrooge (Timothy Paul Brown) and Belle (Alejandra Flores). If you’re not grinning ear-to-ear any time the Ghost of Christmas Present (Dorcas Leung) gleefully flies across the playing area, check your pulse.
Typically Ferguson, who has played many of this show’s roles, including Scrooge, is the scene-stealer. This year, that title goes to Alex Organ, who makes a wonderful sad clown of Marley’s ghost and is funny yet intimidating as the man who takes money for Scrooge’s belongings after he has died in the Christmas Future section.
Having the actors play various instruments in the music sequences, notably from violinist Katrina Kratzer, is another delightful aspect of this adaptation, and the handbells at the end are gorgeous.
Just when you think you know this story in and out, DTC gives it an illuminating spin.