A Christmas Carol, 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa CA
Reviewed by Greg and Suzanne Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critic’s Circle
Photos by Eric Chazankin
Fresh Take on an Old Holiday Classic
The familiar figures of Scrooge and Cratchit are making their annual appearance on stages all around the country, but there’s a wonderfully original version of this classic Christmas tale by Charles Dickens being presented at 6th Street Playhouse’s GK Hardt Theater that is not to be missed.
Nearly everything about this show has a bright twist of originality. References to clocks, gears and the passage of time are built into the set and stage effects, alluding to Scrooge’s ghostly temporal visitors and the brevity of life itself. Jacob Marley’s bizarre and dramatic appearance at midnight is worth the price of admission alone. He’s a strange and wild-haired sort of spook, trailed by an attendant demon crawling on his knees behind him, wrangling Marley’s cumbersome chains. But the best of all comes near the end, when the last ghost comes to call. Mesmerized, you simply can’t take your eyes off the stage.
The usual void during set changes is filled with the chorus singing snippets of traditional carols at each break. It’s a nice touch by director Craig Miller whose creative stamp is everywhere. There’s a distinct steampunk fantasy influence that enhances the Victorian setting. It’s just the right touch of inventiveness, yet it allows the events and characters to remain recognizable. Original music by composer and music director Nate Riebli is pitch-perfect, no pun intended.
Noted stage and TV veteran Charles Siebert plays Scrooge as a slightly more sympathetic character than the typical unredeemingly greedy creep. Even before the visit from the first ghost, we can almost understand why he is the way he is. This makes his final repentance all the more believable, and as satisfying as Christmas pudding. Siebert’s Scrooge is better than just about any in recent memory.
Alan Kaplan offers a melodramatic and emotional Marley, a ghost on a mission. He’s horrifying enough in looks alone, but with the help of high-tech stage wizardry he truly sounds like he’s speaking from another world. Jeff Cote offers a workmanlike Bob Cratchit, a warm yet sorrowful figure who fears for his job, his family and his little son. Cote’s real-life son, James Cote, plays Tiny Tim, the gamely suffering tot, with great naturalistic style. He may just have a future onstage.
Jessica Headington as the Ghost of Christmas Past is almost fairy-like – shimmering, graceful and compassionate. This is in sharp contrast to her other role as a cockney doll seller, a testament to her excellent acting skills. Next up is the lovable Ghost of Christmas Present and Nick Christenson’s larger-than-life stage presence, delivering this elegant, joyful character. Christenson is equally delightful in his other role as a cider seller. The Ghost of Christmas Future as portrayed by Ryan Severt is nothing short of remarkable, a tottering, towering black-clad specter, a silent grim reaper in a top hat.
Michael Temple plays Scrooge’s nephew Fred a little on the one-dimensional side, but he’s warmly sincere and forthright. His character embodies all that’s fine and good in humanity. Harry Duke in two roles as the solicitor and Mr Fezziwig has a compelling stage presence, and looks that are pure Dickens.
The superb collaboration of set design (Jesse Dreikosen), light and sound (Steven Piechocki, Craig Miller and John Gromada), costumes (Pat Fitzgerald) and Miller’s lively direction, is enhanced even more by the performances of the talented cast. They look like they stepped right out of Victorian London, so good is the casting. Craig Miller has outdone himself once again with well-crafted ambiance, giving us a fresh take on Scrooge’s miraculous discovery of the joy of giving.
When: Now through December 20, 2015
8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
2:00 p.m. Sundays, and Saturdays December 12 and 19
Tickets: $15 to $37
Location: GK Hardt Theater at 6th Street Playhouse
52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA