A Christmas Carol
The holiday season is in full swing and with nearly every company in San Diego in production, there is no lack of shows to see. This week I attended what most consider to be the quintessential Christmastime story, "A Christmas Carol," playing at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
Adapted for the stage by Cygnet co-founder Sean Murray, this version is a fresh and entertaining look at an otherwise overdone classic. A play-within-a-play, this reboot recreates a World War II era radio drama complete with wonderfully over-dramatic actors, sound effects, a little self-discovered holiday cheer and a winter wonderland-like surprise for audiences at the end of the show.
In reality, the show begins before the show begins. Actors file in among the audience members, finding the stage as patrons find their seats, stopping to visit and reminisce with each other along the way. The fourth wall extends to the boundaries of the theatre itself as the audience becomes a part of the production complete with "Applause" signs and sign-a-longs.
With an almost vaudevillian feel, "A Christmas Carol" successfully navigates the themes of Dicken’s original work and makes this accessible to all generations of theatre-goers.
Produced almost entirely with a cast of Cygnet resident artists, all that is going well in San Diego’s fourth largest theatre company is put on display.
Tom Stephenson as the voice of Ebenezer Scrooge also plays a character that goes through a Scrooge-like transformation through the course of the production. His infectious smile had the audience holding hands and singing chorales of Christmas music by the end of the evening.
Tim Irving as the animated and endearing Bob Cratchit was a delight to watch. Jonathan Dunn-Rankin as both the Narrator and Freddie Filmore, radio personality extraordinaire, exuded a personality and voice that transcended radio and gave such an authentic feel to this period piece.
Despite a stage full of wonderfully talented actors, it was Jason Connors who absolutely stole the show. As the stage hand and sound effects specialist at the fictional radio station WCYG, Connors was where the eyes of the audience fell most often during the night.
Creating the whooshing sound of the cold winter wind, stomping feet, knocked over knickknacks, or the eerie background noises of visiting supernatural beings, he was a tour de force in sound effects and worth the trip alone.
A one-man wonder, Sean Murray also designed a beautifully put together set delightfully accented by R. Craig Wolf’s lighting design. Not missing a single detail, Shirley Pierson’s costume design was pretty spot on right down to the seamed hosiery worn by the actresses.
The quality of a production can be seen by the attention paid to the details and it’s small ones like these that could easily be overlooked that show high concentration and attention to detail.
It’s some of these little things that make a production go from good to great.
Though I always stay impartial in reviewing a show and try to look at every production as a single entity, I can’t help but have some forethought, anticipation and level of expectation going in to a show. I was intrigued but not overly enthusiastic about seeing a production that has been appropriately overproduced.
After leaving the theatre that night I can honestly say this particular staging exceeded every expectation I had. Fun, frolicking, and engaging, "A Christmas Carol" is a holiday joy for all ages.