When an adapter and director makes a familiar story seem fresh, success has been achieved. When the feat is repeated, success has been transcended. Such is the case with Lyric Theatre’s A Christmas Carol, adapted and directed by the company’s artistic director, Michael Baron. This is the same production Lyric has staged for three years now, but this season, the show has a new Scrooge. Amazingly, it stands up to repeat viewings.
Many plays fail because the scripts simply are not worthy of production. Baron has the advantage of starting with Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas ghost story. He incorporates several traditional carols into the show, sung by the cast to recorded accompaniment. The orchestration includes mostly acoustic instruments, but it goes electronic at times. Surprisingly, the combination works well.
The production weaves its charm as soon as you take your seat in the Plaza Theatre and see Lee Savage’s set design, abetted by Ariel J. Benjamin’s lighting design, featuring a stylized, 19thcentury London skyline in silhouette. Equally impressive is the sound design by Josh Schmidt and Brad Poarch. When Scrooge slams the door in a beggar’s face, it sounds like Zeus hurling down a thunderbolt from Olympus. The voice of Marley’s ghost reverberates like the show is a B-grade horror flick. It scared two children sitting near me out of their wits. And when the door is opened to Scrooge’s establishment, you hear the wind howling outside. This attention to detail is appreciated greatly.
Oklahoma City theater goes into a lull this time of year, so Baron can draw from a pool of our top-notch actors for the show’s month-long run. Jonathan Beck Reed originated Scrooge in this production, but Washington, D.C.- based actor Christopher Bloch plays the miser of misers this year. Bloch is excellent as his Ebenezer evolves from imperiousness to contrition.
(According to Lyric, Reed wanted to take off this holiday season from playing Scrooge to spend more time with his family. Sounds like a wayward politician. But the company says he will be back at the Plaza next month in The Odd Couple.)
The other actors in the cast, most in multiple roles, are a joy to behold. Thomas E. Cunningham plays Jacob Marley, Mr. Fezziwig and Old Joe, who buys up the remnants of Scrooge’s estate at a bargain, to fine effect. The great Brenda Williams returns as Mrs. Fezziwig and the narrator who anchors the story. Tom Huston Orr plays Bob Cratchit with a handkerchief and a brogue that one can’t help but admire. Matthew Alvin Brown is appealing as Scrooge’s nephew and as the young Scrooge.
Two casts of children are in the show. The Ivy Cast played the reviewed performance, but the alternate Holly Cast surely must be just as good.
No matter what you think about Christmas, this production of A Christmas Carol offers universal truths for everyone. Dickens includes the characters Want and Ignorance in the story and says the latter is the most dangerous. That could not be more true today.