First off, be forewarned, the evening performances of the new musical version of A Christmas Carol at the Lonny Chapman Theatre start at 7:30, not the traditional 8 p.m. in order to make the evening early enough for the children in the cast and in the audience. Luckily, I got to the theatre “early” so I didn’t miss anything.
We all know the heart warming story of the curmudgeon who becomes enlightened due to the intervention of various spirits, it has been made into movies, television specials, episodes on televison series and stage plays so often, most English speaking people could probably quote most of the book by heart, even if they’d never read the thing. Every December in Los Angeles, there are several productions of it, and I determined that LA Theatre Review would chose one at random and leave the rest to the other guys.
This production was charming. That’s the only word that fits it all around. The set was well designed, the chorus vocals are wonderful, as are the musical arrangements, and though many of the cast are obviously amateurs, they are earnest and fun to watch. This is the LA premier of this version of the play, but, according to the program notes, it has been around for over ten years. The script is structured almost as a reading, with various of the characters taking over the narration explaining what you’re watching (lifted, I imagine, directly from Dickens’ novel.)
The press release touts puppets and masked performers, comparing it to Julie Taymor’s The Lion King. This is, as press releases can be, hyperbole. Yes, two of the four spirits and the essence of Ignorance and Want were life sized puppets, and two of the spirits, Marley and Christmas Present, were performed by actors with masks, but, for the most part, it was living, breathing, normal faced people up there on the stage gleefully performing their hearts out.
Even with several actors doing many roles, the cast of this production is quite large, unusual for a production in Los Angeles small theatre. With so many people, the stage got jumbled sometimes. The set (by Trefoni Michael Rizzi, who also did the lighting design) was grand, but, partly because of that, had a couple of clumsy changes, especially the first time the London street became Scrooge’s bed chamber, complete with four-poster bed. There was one marvelous effect, where Marley’s ghost appears on Scrooge’s door knocker, that was, due to unfocused staging, almost lost. I’m glad I was looking for something so I caught it.
The costumes by Liz Nankin and Mara K. Parian were quite good, evoking the era of British history that was all too contemporary when Dickens wrote about it. (One of the reasons this story holds up so well is that there are, and probably always will be Scrooge type people, and there is always room for redemption.)
A Christmas Carol is performed Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. through December 20, 2009 and Sundays at 2 p.m and 7 p.m. on August 9 and 16, 2009.
The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, just west of Vineland.
General admission $22. Seniors/Students: $17. Special Holliday Package, 4 tickets for $50
Reservations online at http://www.thegrouprep.com/ or by phone at (818) 700-4978