A Christmas Carol Theatre Review – A “Carol” that Continues to Capture the Soul

A Christmas Carol: 35 years at SCR

(Costa Mesa, CA) December, 2014. A 35th anniversary can be a very special time. The traditional wedding gift for that year is coral, whereas the more modern gift is jade and emerald is its gemstone. Thirty-five years ago, Barbara Streisand’s “The Way We Were” was THE hit and gas was only $0.55. Also that year, for the first time, South Coast Repertory (SCR) produced “A Christmas Carol.” It was presented again during the next Christmas. And again. Year after year, SCR has continued this Christmas tradition, practically cementing it as a Orange County landmark event. The production has never been a retread; it maintains its freshness and spirited cheer. And this year is no exception, especially since the cast includes 16 local school children who auditioned for the roles after training in SCR’s Theatre Conservatory. During its 35th anniversary, lead actor Hal Landon, Jr., director John-David Keller and a talented cast create Christmas magic once again at SCR.

 

Scrooge (Hal Landon, Jr., center) and his ghosts (from left to right: James MacEwan, Richard Doyle, Gregg Daniel and Timothy Landfield)

It is Christmas time in 19th century London and everyone is celebrating with holiday cheer…except for an old, embittered Ebenezer Scrooge (Hal Landon, Jr.). He scowls, he scares away carolers and solicitors requesting donations for the orphanage and he forces his clerk Bob Cratchet (Daniel Blinkoff) to work with him on Christmas Eve. He also venomously refuses his nephew’s (William Francis McGuire) invitation to have Christmas dinner with his family, and he barks “Bah Humbug” to anyone to anyone in his way. But he encounters the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley (Gregg Daniel). A specter who is literally burdened by the chains of his sins, Marley warns Scrooge that he will be visited throughout the night by three ghosts: Christmas Past, Present and Future (Richard Doyle, Timothy Landfield, and Austin Springer, respectively). And during this night, the old misanthrope experiences visions that will either change his ways or else he will end up in the same fate as his trusted partner.

 

Bob (Daniel Blinkoff) carries Tiny Tim (Nika Natalie Aydin)

John-David Keller’s direction (who is also hilarious as the mischievous Mr. Fezziwig, along with his co-star Karen Hensel as his robust wife) is fresh with each passing year, especially with the musical numbers that perfectly capture the holiday spirit. What enhances the setting of the story even more is the stage framed with sketches and paintings of Victorian England that were inspired by woodcuttings created by the legendary John Leech and William Hogarth, which encapsulates the dark atmosphere of a poor London, but somehow maintaining an inner spirit of hope at the same time, courtesy of Scenic Designer Thomas Buderwitz.

 

For the 35th year, Landon Jr. has once again given a newly-minted multilayered performance as the iconic Scrooge. Last season, he exuded regretful sadness. This year, Landon interlaced his character with a type of bitter venom that seems to slowly boil and erupt at certain key points of the play. But after these eruptions, Landon shows him as an empty husk of a man, devoid of any humanity because of the choices he has made in his life. And when the ghosts take him on his journey, a desire for redemption is created and shown at the end. After 35 years, Landon Jr. can still do that famous joyous summersault across his bed, collecting his top hat on his head. Like the production, he is a true artistic landmark at SCR.

 

Scrooge (Hal Landon Jr., far left) greets and reconciles with Bob Cratchit (Daniel Blinkoff, third from the left) and his family (from left to right: Liam McHugh, Nika Natalie Aydin, Jillian Tabone, Jennifer Parsons and Grace O'Brien)

The rest of the cast shine beautifully in this production. Daniel’s Marley is a frightening doomed ghoul in his chains, while Doyle’s Ghost of Christmas Past is a suave aristocrat. Landfield steals the rest of the first act as a bubbly Ghost of Christmas Present that is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Falstaff. Blinkoff’s Cratchit is a sympathetic soul, while McGuire gives a fun-filled optimistic performance as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. But a special mention should go to all the young actors from the SCR Acting Conservatory, who alternate in eight roles, including Alexis Cueva/Katherine Parrish (Martha Cratchit), Joshua Myran/Mitchell Huntley (Peter Cratchit), Emily McDaniel/Zoe Hebbard (Belinda Cratchit), Jacqueline Vellandi/Aoife McEvoy (Tiny Tim), Karoline Ribak/Sophia Utria (Fan/Teen Girl), Olivia Drury/Bella Browne (Girl About Town), Benjamin Susskind/London Walston (Young Ebenezer/Oliver Shelley), William Lynam/Maximos Harris (Turkey Boy). By having these young actors participate in this landmark Christmas tradition, SCR extends its outreach to another theatrical generation, proving that it is, once again, the most significant regional theatre in the country.

 

 

Peter A. Balaskas is a journalist, fiction writer, editor, and voice over artist.

A Christmas Carol opened November 28-December 27, 2014

South Coast Repertory: Segerstrom Stage

655 Town Center Drive,

Costa Mesa, CA 92628-2197

Photos by Jim Cox/SCR

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