K-State Theater and director/choreographer/bit player Jerry Jay Cranford have again brought the Radio City version of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” to the stage of McCain Auditorium. And once again, taken as a children’s show, it works quite well.
The show brings a huge, talented and well-rehearsed cast (we were told there were 44) to the stage, a good-sounding 19-piece band (conducted by Paul Hunt) to the pit, and relies on countless effective technicians and backstage helpers.
Kathy Voecks’ sets — Victorian street front flats that flew up independently to reveal three versatile three-dimensional boxes — worked well. James Davis’ sound was fine after early adjustments to bring the voices up. Or maybe I adjusted my ears.
The lighting, by Brett Broadbent, used electric footlights in the show’s best scene. And Dana Pinkston’s costumes were, as always, exemplary. Except that she had to costume nuns.
The production wanted to give us a line of little Catholic school girls led by nuns, as if straight from the pages of “Madeline.” That went along with the idea in the Aussie-style, show opening self-flagellation that Manhattan is on the “ancestral land of the Kaw.” History was not the production’s long suit.
Nor was the score, by Alan Menken. But what kind of entertainments do we associate the composer with? Disney animated films. The stage “Scrooge” at least has “Thank You Very Much” in it. But maybe that’s too brutal a sentiment for a production directed at children.
Local theater veteran Willie Michaels headed the big, big singing, good dancing cast. He managed to give Ebenezer Scrooge a range of emotions, which took some craft given the simplicity of this re-telling of the story.
Among the successful on-stage performers were the sub-groups who acted as the ghost Jacob Marley (Skyler Lindquist) and his spooky mini-mes and the Ghost of Christmas Present (Mathew Robinson) and dancing girls.
In this production, at least, “Link by Link” (about Scrooge preparing his own afterlife) was the song highlight.
Dickens is frequently faulted for going all weepy about sick children and other obvious subjects for sentimentality.
This musical errs to that side of things, too. It reprises the ballad “A Place Called Home,” for example, in a spot or two where the sentiment is not really needed.
A more substantial problem with the story of the money-lender’s three ghostly visitors and his eventual awakening to a less suspicious and cynical life is that it can seem to be suggesting Scrooge buys his forgiveness. That he buys his way into heaven.
The play tries to address this weakness by showing that Mr. Scrooge’s impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit (Trace Campbell), and his estranged nephew, Fred (Michael Duncan), continue to wish the old man well, if only in seasonal toasts. We are saved by grace.
In fact, ailing, lame Tiny Tim Cratchit joins his father in sending out good wishes to the story’s central character. And Hayden Platt, who played Tiny Tim, is just one of a talented and fairly disciplined set of children in the cast.
They play relations and street urchins. They play named characters (Magnolia Titchner was Scrooge’s sister in the Christmas past flashback). They play Bunyanesque personifications of Ignorance and Want, with the second term meaning hunger and need.
They were all fine on stage. And if it took introducing the suggestion of a 1950s Parisian church girls’ school into the mix to get them all on stage, ticket holders were glad the production decided to do so.
The decent-sized McCain crowd at the Saturday night performance wasn’t as young as was the crowd four years ago, when K-State Theater last gave us this show. But they certainly seemed to be entertained by “A Christmas Carol, the Musical.” And with good reason.