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Friday, 06 December 2013 20:39

Tradition delights in ‘A Christmas Carol’

Written by Tina Farmer
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Tradition delights in ‘A Christmas Carol’
fabulousfox.com

Falling snow greeted my niece and me as we left the Fox after the Nebraska Theater Caravan's production of "A Christmas Carol," a fitting close to an evening filled with the oft-told tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. If the audience wasn't in the holiday spirit when they arrived, I am confident the theater's sparkling lobby decorations and the sweetly reverent tone of this holiday classic quickly put them in the mood.

All the high points of the beloved Christmas tale are presented with just the right theatricality, resulting in an engaging show that is a delight to watch.

The curtain opens to reveal a colorful, frozen tableau. Once in action, the ensemble's chipper, busy activity adds layers of visual interest, providing a postcard picture of the perfect Victorian Christmas. The set and costumes reference the era quite nicely, and the ensemble moves crisply through their choreography and harmonizes well.

We are introduced to Scrooge, and his tight-fisted, money-grubbing ways, during an exchange with Bob Cratchit and the charity men. Though he rebuffs any attempt at polite or charitable conversation, those around him still wish him well and even toast his continued health and success. The contrast of the lively and joyful street scene to the cheerless demeanor of Ebenezer Scrooge and his dreary office is stark, setting into motion a night of revelation.

Scrooge's visits by the ghosts feature numerous effects and much movement of set pieces, all of which are seamlessly accomplished. The initial appearance of the Ghost of Jacob Marley is quite effective, as is the final visit from the menacingly huge and diabolically mechanical Ghost of Christmas Future. In between, Theresa Sindelar, as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Andrew Tebo, as the Ghost of Christmas Present, are pitch perfect and captivating to watch. Each actor finds a distinct laugh and flourishing mannerisms to enhance their character.

The capable cast features Brent Burington as Ebenezer Scrooge, the original Christmas "Grinch," and he appears to genuinely enjoy the role. He is by turns querulous, remorseful, and exultant, and his expressions and body language are delightfully just over-the-top. Dan Chevalier, as Bob Cratchit, and Russell Matthews, as Scrooge's nephew Fred, provide a sympathetic counterpoint to Burington. Matthews is particularly strong, and the party scene at his house is one of the ensemble highlights of the evening.

An abundance of traditional carols interspersed throughout the show add warmth and charm, as do the scenes illustrating the good-hearted decency of the Cratchit family. The wholesome, uplifting tone of these scenes effectively underscores the fact that Scrooge is, in contemporary terms, in desperate need of a change in attitude. After his visits from the ghosts, Burington joyfully embraces that change, ensuring the requisite happy ending and garnering hearty applause from an appreciative audience.

Staging the Nebraska Theatre Caravan's production of "A Christmas Carol" is no small feat. Huge set pieces fly in and out, there are multiple scene and costume changes in both acts, and the large cast must quickly adapt to each new stage on which they appear. To the company's credit, they succeed in most of the technical and theatrical aspects.

The fanciful production is filled with spirited dances, familiar music, and period touches that, when combined with earnest performances, make for a lovely and entertaining show. The acting is, for the most part, strong and clear and the stagecraft is nearly flawless. Set changes are quick and efficient, with spot lit scenes on the stage's apron redirecting focus during changeovers, keeping the show's pace brisk and involving.

From a dramatic standpoint, the show got off to an uneven start the night I attended. There were several moments of lost dialogue throughout the production, and a few of the actors appeared lost, both verbally and physically. I wondered if the lighting cues were off or if the actors were simply uncertain as to their marks. In addition, the microphones seemed to need adjustment at times, resulting in a moment or two of imbalanced harmonies. The production is, however, overwhelmingly enjoyable and a visually spectacular representation of this much-loved story.

The Nebraska Theatre Caravan's production of "A Christmas Carol" is showing at the Fox Theatre December 5 through 8, 2013. For more information visit www.fabulousfox.com.

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