Lake country playhouse freshens up
'a Christmas carol'
Published dec. 5, 2017
By MARILYN JOZWIK
This is the sixth year Lake Country Playhouse has been staging a musical version of “A Christmas Carol” for the holiday season.
The story never grows old. But the same version of it might.
This year, LCP has added a little holiday spice to the Ernest Brusabardis (music) and Michael Koscincki (lyrics and adaptation) musical in the form of a quintet of young dancers in several scenes.
Under the direction of Sandra Renick and Breanne Brennan, the additions give more life to some scenes that didn’t have much movement in the past.
The show opens to the howling wind and a small group (that happens to include the Tajnai family, Ben, Sarah and 10-month-old Joseph) huddled against the cold. Passing by, hunched over like some rabid raccoon, is Mr. Scrooge (Robert Hurd), who mutters angrily as he scurries by.
The story moves quickly to Scrooge’s office, where he utters the famous “are there no prisons, no workhouses?” line to the couple collecting money for the less fortunate. Scrooge’s assistant, Bob Cratchit (Jeffrey Seelig), though bundled up, shivers in the cold office while Scrooge seems impervious to the temperature.
Scrooge returns home and falls asleep in a chair, a much better option to an unwieldy bed that is often used. With the frequent night visitors, he spends little time in it anyhow. I like some of the comic touches the actress who goes by the name of Goo adds to the role of Scrooge’s housekeeper, Mrs. Shelby.
But the centerpiece of the show is the spectacular arrival of the ghost of Jacob Marley (Paul Weir), Scrooge’s business partner. Amid eerie sounds and billows of fog, Weir clangs through the door in a rage, leaving no doubt about Scrooge’s fate if Scrooge doesn’t heed his dire warning.
Scrooge meekly tells the ghost, “You were always a good man of business, Jacob.” In a voice so thunderous it knocks Scrooge back into his chair, the ghost replies: “Business! Mankind was my business.” The scene is staged very effectively, with Weir giving a superb performance.
And so the message has been delivered in no uncertain terms.
Sarah Tajnai as the Ghost of Christmas Past nicely delivers my favorite song from the show, the beautiful “These Are but Shadows,” in which the ghost implores Scrooge to join her on a journey to his past. Five young dancers (Alexandra Higbee, Emma Holland, Isabella Martin, Eliana Mitchell and Aviya Mitchell) clad in white, angel-like outfits sway and twirl balletically to the music as Scrooge considers the ghost’s request.
The Fezziwig Dance scene performed by the company is a little disappointing in its brevity, while Samuel Bisordi and Laura Laberge – who also served as the dance captain – do a nice job as the young Scrooge and his girlfriend Belle, who sings the lovely “Without Me,” in which she returns his ring citing his greed, to end the first act.
Act 2 opens with the ensemble singing a gorgeous rendition of “Carol of the Bells.” Under the direction of Catherine Pfeiler, the ensemble also did a beautiful job with carols to open the show and toward the end to add to the festive atmosphere.
Ben Tajnai, playing the Ghost of Christmas Present for the third time at LCP, continues Scrooge’s visits in Act 2 with his playful interaction with the curmudgeon. Scrooge implores the spirit to sprinkle Mrs. Cratchit (Cayla Anderson) with some of his dust to lighten her mood while she rails against her husband’s boss at dinner. It is a welcome touch of levity.
The family sings a lovely tune of thanks, “The Lord in Heaven,” followed by Mrs. Cratchit’s “The Winter Will Soon Be Over,” in which she mulls the future of her sickly son. Tyler Earnest lends a sweet, pitch perfect voice to the end of Anderson’s heartfelt song to enhance the emotion.
Marty Graffenius (last year’s Scrooge) and Goo pair up as Old Joe and Mrs. Shelby as they pick through Scrooge’s possessions while singing the catchy “I Took ’em” tune during the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Peter A. Garton). The two have a lot of fun with the sprightly song. On the other side of the stage, the quintet of street kids uses rag props for their clever dance. Unfortunately, the dance, though nicely executed, detracts from the fine portrayals of Old Joe and Mrs. Shelby.
The five return, clad in black, for Scrooge’s grave scene with the towering ghost and add solemnity with their slow, graceful poses.
Hurd’s Scrooge seems to simmer, more than snarl, but is a master at disdainful looks. He had a tendency to mutter a bit too much. Nonetheless, his is a fine, faithful portrayal of the season’s favorite villain.
I enjoyed stage newcomer Myles Coyne’s portrayal of Scrooge’s nephew Fred. Coyne has a nice presence and a fine voice, pairing nicely with Megan Wolfgram-Nolting (who played the same role, as Fred’s wife, as well as the narrator last year). She is always a delight to see on the LCP stage.
I missed the glittery, snowy street scene backdrop from last year, which was replaced with a sparser, more austere, look for this version.
As in years past, the LCP lobby is well-decorated for the season and treats are dispensed to the audience during intermission. Graffenius and Goo, both clad in their Dickens’ characters, mingled before the show, adding to the festive program.
If you go
Who: Lake Country Playhouse
What: “A Christmas Carol”
When: Through Dec. 10
Where: 221 E. Capitol Drive, Hartland
Info: www.lakecountryplayhousewi.org; 262-367-4697