A classic Christmas tale of a miserly old man who has lost the spirit of Christmas. He is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come which help him to see the world and those around him in a different light. Now playing at The Albany Civic Theater through December 21st. Directed by Josh Anderson.
I’ve seen this story a bajillion times over the years. Movie versions, tv versions, the Muppets version (my favorite), and countless stage versions. You’d think, being a classic, it would be easy to pull off and people would naturally like it. Not quite in this case. I’ll start with what’s great and why people should see this show despite the problems.
Chuck Skinner as Ebeneezer Scrooge. The top #1 reason to see this show is to experience another brilliant performance from Chuck Skinner. He embodies Scrooge with a range of cantankary (yes, a word I made up) and deflatedness (another word I made up) and joy reminding me of my other favorite Scrooge–Michael Caine. (From Muppets Christmas Carol. You really should watch it if you haven’t. It’s a classic.) From his costuming, body language, voice, inflections, and facial expressions behind those lamb chops on his face, Chuck earns nods from the community theatre gods with his turn at Scrooge.
Leslie Hogan as the Narrator. The 2nd reason to see the show. She takes the role of the narrator, which could easily be done “reading” the story and setting the tone, and makes it another character of the play by moving about the stage and speaking to the audience as if she was telling her grand kids a bedtime story. It’s kind of a scary one, if you think about it, but with a happy ending. *Now even though she is wonderful, I did have some issues with her role. Her costume is a modern suit and the play takes place during the Victorian era. I didn’t ask her last night who’s choice it was but it was distracting once she left the proscenium and wandered in and out of some scenes as an observer as well as dialogue in one scene. I’m fine with the interaction but a period costume would have more appropriate for my traditionalist taste.
Davin Dahlgren as Bob Cratchit. The 3rd and final reason to see it. Bob Cratchit is a good guy. A hard worker who just wants to be treated fairly but understands his boss and doesn’t make a fuss. He is grateful for everything he has and reminds his family of the blessings they share being together. Davin plays Cratchit exactly the way his character is written. He doesn’t overplay or underplay the delicate balance of Bob Cratchit’s position in the show. The perfect amount of gratitude, submissiveness, and surprise. His costuming was done well and he was quite fun to watch.
I understand opening night can be a little janky for people. Glitches with light cues, dropping lines, calling people the wrong name, the usual stuff. With that being said, I give grace in those areas. However, there are things about this production which make me think it was thrown together quickly with the thought “it’s good enough”. I disagree with this sentiment. Especially when it comes to community theatre productions. My critiques will sound nit-picky to many, but when the details are overlooked, they stick out like a sore thumb.
While Scrooge, the narrator, and Crachit seemed to be living the story, the rest of the cast seemed to be “playing their part”. I’m the snobby wife. I’m the dismissed girlfriend. I’m the faithful nephew. I’m the little crippled boy. I’m the ghost of Christmas… flat or over acting or caricatures. I know this is community theatre. I despise this excuse when I hear it because it’s no excuse. For most of them, it felt like they didn’t know what they were saying or why. Director’s should not assume actors can and will do the work on their own time or that actors will ask for help with the language. To be fair, I did not reach out to the director before writing this. He may or may not have spent time working out the language. I don’t know.
Most of the costuming worked and looked really good. The hoop skirts need either another layer of fabric to smooth out the rings or just not used at all. One of the hoop dresses had an uneven hem and so many of the costume pieces were in desperate need of steaming or ironing. The ladies had these perfect ringlets and hairstyles only to be upstaged by hoops.
The set design, using revolving set pieces, was a great choice. Just not well executed. Not only was it loud during set changes, it didn’t look complete. Sight lines were bad and we could see actors in the wings coming and going. I know part of the action happens upstairs in Scrooge’s bedroom , so a curtain wouldn’t work but a short flat or something would’ve better than nothing. The sets were also quite plain. I mean, you expect it in some scenes as the characters don’t have much money; but Scrooge’s bedroom had little personality. He’s stingy but he’s rich. I was nervous about the actors being up on the platform without a rail. There is a railing on the side but not the front. When Scrooge yells out to the kid on the street, there was no concept of the window. I thought it was in the front where the ghost of Christmas past takes him but it changed. Could’ve been Scrooge’s excitement which blurred the line for me but had there been an actual “window space” somehow, it would have made more sense. And safer for the actors up there. Back to the revolving set. The curtain closes for most scene changes and remains open for others which made it clunky and distracting.
Lights, sound, and projection. Well, opening night has its moments. Overall, the lights, sound, and projection were appropriate. There are some dark spots in the middle which lost the actors a number of times. Those experienced actors, learned quickly and back tracked into the light throughout the show. Sound wasn’t consistent but that happens. (I’ve been there. You press the button and nothing happens. You freak out and press it again. You pray the actors realize it isn’t going to work and just keep going.) The projection of the snowing street scene was good but most of the time hidden by the majority of the set. When it changed to a different snowy scene, it was unnecessary. Most of us couldn’t really see it anyway. And the change in slides was distracting.
I know my review is not what people want to read. Some want me to be honest. Some want me to be nice(r). A Christmas Carol is a classic and according to director Josh Anderson, “near and dear to my (his) heart”. I wish, for him and all involved, it was a better production. It has the potential to be. Don’t let my review stop you from seeing and supporting these fine people at Albany Civic Theater. For tickets and showtimes, click HERE.
Coming up at ACT: A Gentlemen’s Guide To Love and Murder. Directed by Ken Long and Timothy John Kelley II. I am super excited to see this show! I love murder (that came out wrong) and musicals. What a great combo 🙂 I already have my tickets for opening night! Watch a short teaser below:
Also! Auditions for Squirrel Lake are next week! December 9, 10, & 11. The show sounds like a lot of fun! Check out this audition teaser for more info: