You'd have to be a Scrooge not to like 'A Christmas Carol' at Toby's
By MIKE GIULIANO
Nov 29, 2012 | 6:30 AM
One thing that Ebenezer Scrooge does not get is a good night's sleep. That's because pesky ghosts keep appearing with reminders that he needs to reconsider his grumpy life. Ever since Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" in 1843, audiences have enjoyed accompanying Scrooge on his overnight ethical transformation.
You have yet another opportunity to ride along in the musical theater version of "A Christmas Carol" that's being festively staged at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia. It's a family-friendly show for the holiday season.
This musical's book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens retains familiar dialogue from the source story, but does so in an efficiently streamlined way. That sleek plotting seems to move even faster as it's pushed along by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Ahrens, whose score is breezy and sometimes too brassy.
The creative team isn't shy about being anachronistic on occasion. Victorian-costumed Dickensian characters faithfully come to life in most scenes, but then there will be a production number such as "Abundance and Charity" in which the tap dance and chorus line formations owe more to a modern Las Vegas revue than to the Victorian dance hall.
What counts is that it's all, well, in the spirit of Christmas. This amusing production conveys that spirit thanks to smart casting, clever staging and, most crucially, a cheerful attitude.
The savvy casting starts with the character without whom there wouldn't be "A Christmas Carol." As Scrooge, David Bosley-Reynolds truly inhabits his long dark coat and tall black hat. His persuasive acting and singing take us along as he goes from being a grouchy old guy at the beginning to smiling like a rejuvenated elderly gentleman at the end.
Actually, the only distraction is that this Scrooge wears such a long and unruly gray wig that it represents the sort of caricature that Bosley-Reynolds' performance otherwise avoids.
There is no need to summarize a story known to everybody, so here's just a quick reminder that Scrooge is the world's meanest boss and Bob Cratchit is the world's meekest employee at what definitely is a non-union company.
As Cratchit, David James is so completely at ease with his English accent and also with his singing that it's a pleasure to watch him. This makes it all the more endearing to watch Cratchit enter the humble home he shares with his wife, Mrs. Cratchit (Jennie Lutz); daughter, Martha (Katie Heidbreder); and son, Tiny Tim (Thomas Langston at the reviewed performance, alternating with his brother, TJ Langston). This production's Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim share a really tender duet in "You Mean More to Me."
It's worth noting that David James also directed this production, because the cohesive domestic scenes with the Cratchit family typify a staging in which well-cast actors immediately inhabit their roles. Musical director Pamela Wilt and choreographer Laurie Newton also have a lot to do with making the story's many brief episodes hold together.
Among the actors making that quick connection in their roles and then smoothly going with the musical flow are Heather Marie Beck as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Dressed as if she has just come from a ball with Cinderella, she's a peppy tour guide through Scrooge's early life.
As the Ghost of Christmas Present, Ray Hatch has the slick moves of a song-and-dance man who's eager to take Scrooge through further episodes.
And as the Ghost of Christmas Future, Julie Lancione enters in an ominously shrouded and slow-moving manner; however, her subsequent energetic ballet steps will give pause to Dickens purists.
Other individual performers also have moments when they stand out, but some of the show's most engaging musical numbers involve scenes populated by numerous carolers, creditors and ghouls. Where the last-mentioned are concerned, there is a delightful number, "Link By Link," in which gray-hued ghouls amble across the stage as if at a zombie convention. That crowd-pleasing entertainer Charles Dickens would have loved it.