Anthem Stages A Grand ‘Christmas Carol’ at BCA (4 Stars)
‘Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol’ – Adaptation: Steve Wargo; Musical Arrangements, Diane Adams-McDowell; Presented by Anthem Theatre Company at the Boston Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, 539 Tremont St., Boston, thru December 21st
We have two pairs of tickets to giveaway to the 12/11 show. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to win!
We all know the well-engrained tale of Charles’ Dickens, A Christmas Carol. For some it has become a family tradition to go see every year, and for some theater companies it’s a tradition to keep putting up the show each year, something I hope never ceases to be. Anthem Theatre Company, recently relocated from NYC to wonderful Boston-towne, has struck up a musical adaptation of the classic piece. Though the space is small and the frills kept to a minimum, the emotion and the spirit of Christmas rang through just the same.
The actor playing Scrooge, Kevin B. McGlynn, is an Equity member with an impressive musical theater resume, having been in shows all over New England and the country. We don’t get to enjoy his vocals until later in the second half of the show, but his experience was apparent. He was a well-deserved Scrooge, playing it as an older man who exuded power and a hardened heart, unlike some of the elderly-nearing-decrepit-and-just-grumpy Scrooges I have seen in the past.
With a large ensemble, it was hard to imagine at first that such an unusually large production could fit comfortably into the Black Box Theatre. The challenge to every actor (aside from Scrooge), was to play multiple characters, change costumes, set pieces, narrate the story (for the most part quoting the book), and then sing about 90% of the time while doing these things. They did a pretty grand job, especially considering the size of the room, and the vocals of the entire cast could rival the Boston Pops Choir. Knowing how hard it is to find male actors that can sing at all, let along extremely well, I was very impressed. Of course being a soprano myself, I have a soft spot for the sopranos hitting those high G’s (the lovely song birds Concetta Russo and Emily Hecht in particular).
I went in thinking this show would have the common formula of a musical, with songs to narrate or make the story move forward, but it was much gentler and less-extravagant. Tony nominated Diane Adams-McDowell arranged the music wonderfully. There was nothing forced or over the top, just the classic Victorian Christmas carols that we may not know all the words to as we would current songs (Holly and the Ivy vs. Jingle Bells) but it’s a nice reminder as to how beautiful the older hymns are. Though I will say, it was nice that we could see the pianist, but he is placed almost in the middle of the room and it was distracting from the action whenever the actors were on his side of the room. He was a little too well-lit, wearing Chuck Taylors, and sometimes blocked a bit of the action. I wonder if he could possibly be relocated in the space before the end of the run.
There was a bit of a dissonance between the lack of detailed set (hardly any props, black boxes rearranged to resemble furniture) and the detail of the costumes. Though I suppose it’s best they didn’t go into the avant-garde realm of all black, with hardly any costumes whatsoever. I was pleased to see that the costumes were historically accurate and gave you the understanding from the beginning that this is meant to be the classic setting of the tale. They had their basic Victorian outfits, creating a canvas for character changes and flashy outerwear. I can always appreciate a well-dressed and beautiful Spirit of Christmas Past (or a female Christmas Present!) considering how well we know them to be decked out in previous adaptations. The colors, sparkles, and attitude were precisely what one would hope for from the Spirits. The eerily burlap-robed Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come was quite clever.
If you’d like to keep the Christmas tradition of experiencing this classic tale, I would recommend going to see this year’s adaptation from Anthem Theatre. You may know every line, all the names of the characters, and of course the ending may be ruined for you; but perhaps if you haven’t quite been able to get into the spirit of the Christmas season, after seeing something so nostalgic and ‘Christmasy’, it’ll click for you. The sheer talent in this production should put you in a good mood for holly and egg nog. Don’t get bogged down by finances or the lack of sunlight, enjoy December for how cheerful it should be, and go see A Christmas Carol. (Rating: Family friendly but may be a bit spooky for kids under 6). For more info, go to http://www.anthemtheatre.org/Welcome.html