By CAROL WATERLOO FRAZIER
When December rolls around, musical theater fans know it’s time for a Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera tradition — “A Musical Christmas Carol.”
This timeless Charles Dickens story of redemption takes theater-goers on a whirlwind tour of the past and future of the bah humbug himself, Ebenezer Scrooge. But the story takes place in the present (well, the present for Dickens when the story was first published in 1843.
The show continues weekends through Dec. 21 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh.
Since 1992, “Christmas Carol” has become a holiday tradition for folks of all ages. Whether you’ve seen it a few times or have never missed a year, the show never loses its appeal. Maybe it’s because main cast members have been involved since the beginning (with a missed season here and there). Or maybe the message of hope keeps people coming back. Or it could be because the CLO production remains amazingly fresh and new every year.
The main characters are the same “friends” fans of the show have come to associate with their various rolls. Tom Atkins returns for his seventh year as Scrooge, the miserly accountant whose life revolves around numbers instead of people. Through a series of visits by three spirits and the ghost of his former partner, he begins to have regrets about things he’s done — and in some cases, not done.
Atkins does a convincing job taking his character on the bumpy road to redemption. He delivers one-liners with just the right blend of wit and sarcasm and his rebirth results in a child-like giddiness on Christmas morning.
The journey begins when Scrooge encounters the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley. Daniel Krell creates an eerie walking-dead character that’s forced to wear the chains he forged in life, link by link, as he wonders the earth. He warns his partner of the pending visits by the spirits — the Ghost of Christmas Past (Amanda Serra), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Tim Hartman) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Patrick Cannon). As the young Marley, Krell depicts him as an all-business, cold-hearted person who is more concerned with the bottom line than people.
Most performers have multiple roles, including Hartman who steals the show as the happy-go-lucky Mr. Fezziwig. He gives the show its comic relief while Fezziwig and his wife, played to the hilt by Terry Wickline (she shines in this role but is even more comical as Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilber). Their on-screen chemistry is wonderful. They both show a glimpse of their more dramatic side when they are forced out of their home because of foreclosure — by Marley and Scrooge.
Cannon’s main role is that of Younge Scrooge. Making his “Christmas Carol” debut, he does a good job transitioning from the young and in love (Erika Strasburg does a nice job as his fiancée Belle) apprentice to the ruthless, cold-hearted accountant. His character runs a gamut of emotions and he does a good job in bringing the audience with him on the journey.
Jeffrey Howell reprises his role of Bob Cratchit, who works for Scrooge and copes with his miserly ways in a gracious almost pleasant way. He’s convincing when telling his family never to forget Tiny Tim in an emotional plea. It’s a scene guaranteed to result in you shedding a tear or two.
Tiny Tim, the youngest of the Cratchit children who is crippled and must walk with a cane, is played by first-grader Matei Zivanov. Seemingly unaffected by the audience, he turns in a nice performance and does a good job when singing grace (“Away in A Manger”) before the family delves into “the veritable feast.”
Others turning in notable performances are Justin Fortunato as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, who won’t give up trying to pour out a little Christmas cheer on his crotchety uncle, and Lisa Ann Goldsmith as Mrs. Cratchit, who shines in an emotional scene after Tim’s death (as foreseen through one of the spirits).
If you have some free time during the next two weekends, CLO’s “A Musical Christmas Carol” is well worth the trip into Pittsburgh. Not only will you enjoy a wonderful show but you’ll be making memories that will last a lifetime.
For more information or for tickets, call 412-456-6666.