Though the weather is a little balmy for it, it really is time to grab a stake of holly and queue up to see the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol - The Musical. This is a familiar story nearly everyone has seen on stage, in the movies and on television. A Christmas Carol is possibly the most familiar story about the celebration of Christmas holidays. The originator of the tale, Charles Dickens, wrote this novella mainly because he was broke, and it became one of his best-beloved stories, as a redemptive tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge, a miser who discovers his love of money has nearly ruined his life. A timely story.
Dickens' dark tale is lightened considerably in this version, with music from Disney composer Alan Menken, but there are still some creepy apparitions and cautionary visions of the past and future. As Scrooge is terrorized by Jacob Marley and his quartet of ghosts, one young theater-goer cried, "Daddy!" I remember needing the comfort of my daddy's arms long ago as we watched this story.
But Scrooge deserves what he gets! Scott Rumage's Scrooge is delightfully cranky and horrible, yet wise enough to recognize that he must learn from his visitations.
The rest of the cast weaves in and out of the story, all playing many characters. Look for Ennis Brown II who, as Marley's ghost, adds a smidgen of Bob to his Jacob. He is equal parts doom and beauty.
In this version, we learn a particular reason for Scrooge's parsimony: He remembers the destruction of his boyhood under crushing debt. Yet the Ghost of Christmas Past, played by Charity Rankin, doesn't excuse him. "The memories of the past are what they are," she says. "Don't blame me." Rankin, as well as the other Ghosts of Christmas, played by Tim Miles and Daisy Paroczy Hickey, are all singers and dancers as well as actors.
Other standouts include Brock Ireland as a merry Mr. Fezziwig, Tyler Hanford, as Scrooge's kind nephew Fred and the trio of Rich Laudeman, Gary Bugge and Robert Doerr in various roles. A tiny, but moving role of motherless Grace Smythe is filled with the sweet, heart-rending voice of Ella Nagel.
A Christmas Carol is a feast for the eyes, with enormous, yet mobile sets and fantastic lighting courtesy of technical designers Corey Lee and Adam Fletcher. Stage Manager Michelle Purcell and her tech team of Tala Munsterman and Clarence F. Tennis III make the effects thrilling.
All of the people involved in A Christmas Carol are wonderfully chosen and generationally diverse. It's really easy to imagine Victorian England as we see the privileged wealthy brushing against the truly poor and down-trodden. It is a society made up of the haves and have nots. One singer comments that "Charity is what we wealthy do at Christmas."
For folks who lament the commercialization of the holidays, the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge has as much meaning today as in 1843 - perhaps even more meaning.
Dickens' lesson at the end of this tale is a home truth, as the English say: Money is brass, but family is gold.