Updated: Mar 20, 2019
Believe it or not, even Ebenezer Scrooge has a sense of humor. Nevada Conservatory Theatre presents a fresh, different version of Charles Dicken’s 1843 “A Christmas Carol” than the one they have given in the recent past, an adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and Edward Morgan that sticks closely to the novella yet also opens it up, expanding on characters and scenes only touched on in the story. Evocative, traditional Christmas hymns sung by the cast frame Scrooge’s transformation from curmudgeon to generous soul, and attention to Dicken’s sometimes wry, tongue-in-cheek language often lightens the familiar, ghostly tale about charity, forgiveness, and redemption.
In keeping with the duality of Scrooge’s personality and the themes of the play, director Brian Vaughn deftly achieves a vivid production that is both lush and spare. The staging and pacing is near perfect, the performances are polished, and technical effects are top-notch, though music levels tend to overwhelm singers. An atmosphere of festive nostalgia prevails, integral to Dicken’s idea about the Yuletide season highlighting humanitarian and familial love. And while there are moments of solemnity such as when the ensemble sings “In the Bleak Midwinter,” the show lacks an overall feeling of poverty. A sense of “the surplus population” is difficult to fully get across, perhaps because as in the novella, the play spends more time with the well-to-do than with the downtrodden.
But this is essentially Scrooge’s story, and it’s wonderful to watch his rebirth with the actor Armin Shimerman forming a quiet, subtle arc in the part. In Shimerman’s taut, pinched face we see the man who has put up walls to protect himself from hurt and emotional interaction with others, even though he has been the architect of his own demise by embracing money over people.
When his “dead as a doornail” partner Jacob Marley, played with wide-eyed, tormented regret by Jesse Bourque, appears to him as an apparition bound in the chains of a materialistic life and bringing a warning for him to change, Scrooge’s bitter resolve ever-so-slightly begins to fade. It’s a powerfully creepy scene enhanced especially by Spencer Haley’s ghostly projections of Marley’s gnarled face and the eerie sound effects of Cassie Smith and Alexis Lopez.
Shimerman relaxes into the reawakening of Scrooge as he is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, portrayed by an angelic Madison Kisst. They take a trip to the buoyant Mr. Fezziwig’s annual Christmas Ball, where celebrants partake in a feast and perform an energetic social dance, choreographed with authenticity by Cathy Allen. Chris Edwards is a foppish Fezziwig and makes a funny duo with Kelly Hawes as his wife Mrs. Fezziwig.
Scrooge’s emotions begin to swell as he travels with the Ghost of Christmas Present, portrayed with charming joviality by Stephon Pettway, to his nephew Fred’s Christmas dinner. Brandon Burk plays Fred as an everlasting optimist, a young man who loves his Uncle Scrooge and accepts him despite his miserly ways. Scrooge yearns to join the party and mingles invisibly with the crowd while games are played, and Edwards takes a turn as another silly fop in the form of Mr. Topper, who flirts with the amusing Stefanie Resnick as the ditzy Lucy. They have a nice rapport but take the hamminess a bit too far.
When they arrive at the humble home of Bob Cratchit, portrayed by the sorrowful Jack Lafferty, Scrooge’s wall crumbles when he recognizes the dire illness of Tiny Tim, played sweetly by Will Haley. Lafferty is the emotional center of the play, the one with whom we most empathize. We can see the worry in his eyes, the grief in his shoulders, and the weariness in his sunken cheeks. He is a truly kind soul who deserves a better lot in life.
Bernard Verhoeven cuts an imposing figure as the Ghost of Christmas Future, fully cloaked in black robe and pointing his bony finger to a grim world to come, giving Scrooge the final push he needs to seek redemption. The ensemble is strong and includes beautiful singing but others giving notable performances include Kayla Gaar, Sydney Peca Story, Sam Cordes, and Darek Riley.
Christian Taylor’s set is woodsy, industrial, and aesthetic, with abstract windows set high above the stage. One central, large round window towers above the set with Haley’s gorgeous projections of clocks and snow displayed upon it, indicating locale. Daniella Toscano’s sumptuous costumes are harmonious and beautifully constructed and span different eras, though a bit less beauty might be more appropriate for characters of lesser means. And the lights of Manuel Ramirez are icy blue to capture the feeling of cold, with warm, flickering yellows to evoke gas lamps and candles. He has a gift for lighting faces.
The transformed Scrooge plays a trick on poor Bob Cratchit when he makes him think he is goingto fire him for being late but gives him a raise instead. It’s a moving moment, proving that having a good heart, loyalty, and patience are sometimes rewarded in the end.