Christmas Ghost Story Truly Has the Spirit

Greedy miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, learns that his soul is doomed for all time.  His one chance for salvation lies in the visitation of three Christmas spirits.  Will Scrooge find the path to redemption or is he cursed to walk eternity in the chains of his sins?  Find out by watching A Christmas Carol over at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

The late singer, Gene Pitney, once summed up a great performance when he said, “On a given night when everything works.  When the lights are right.  When the sound is right. When you’re up for the game and you’re feeling right.  Some of them are intangibles.  They’re either going to happen or they’re not going to happen.  But on a given night when they do happen, it’s just an amazing feeling.  You just feel the electricity going back and forth.” 

Well, let me tell that all of those factors were in place last night and the result was the best incarnation of OCP’s A Christmas Carol that I’ve seen.  You had an audience hungry to be entertained and a cast ready to feed that hunger and they served up a Christmas feast.

Susie Baer-Collins joins forces with a returning Carl Beck and Ablan Roblin to direct this Yuletide extravaganza and I was hooked from the smooth as silk opening sequence to the final “God bless us, everyone”.  This directing triumvirate has this show down to a science with the coaching of their performers to the staging of the scenes (I could always see the face of each actor in the massive crowd sections) to the nuanced little change-ups they made from years gone by.  Though this show has been running for 46 years, they made it feel like it was brand new and fresh.

As I’ve stated in past reviews, never, ever, underestimate the power of a good ensemble.  When they’re operating on all cylinders, it just adds rocket fuel to the production and they were ready to rock.  Such energy!  And you could feel the joy of the performance radiating out of them.  Some of the many wonderful performances you’ll see from the ensemble came from Anina Frey who had a gleeful energy about her as Scrooge’s younger sister Fan; Seth Maisel brought some stunning pathos to the role of Jake; Jon Hickerson presents a Ghost of Christmas Present who is drunk on the milk of human kindness, but has a very serious and somber farewell when his time is up; Julie Huff makes for an angelic and commanding Ghost of Christmas Past as well as the scheming thief, Myrtle Crow.

Chris Berger outCratchits Bob Cratchit with his take on Scrooge’s put-upon clerk.  Berger has a wonderful everyman quality and portrays Cratchit as a truly good and decent man and his love for his family is genuine and palpable.  Some of my favorite moments were watching Bob’s reactions such as his giggling and snickering “Merry Christmas” after the counting house is invaded by a group of children who tease Scrooge and his playing with his children in the Cratchit home scenes.

Still, the biggest burden of the show rides on the shoulders of Jerry Longe as Ebenezer Scrooge.  And I’m amazed that Longe still finds new things to try with the character after playing him for so long.  Longe’s on point delivery is enhanced by his stellar facial expressions.  His pre-salvation Scrooge can wither you with a steely glare as he reduced the cartman to tears and always managed to put the fear of God into Bob Cratchit.  I truly loved how Longe drew out the process of Scrooge’s salvation this year.  You could see the cracks appearing in his icy heart with his wistful glances at his beloved sister in his past, saw him experiencing joy for the first time in years as he tasted the milk of human kindness in his present, watched him repent under the horror of seeing his cold and wasted future, then saw him truly embrace the spirit of Christmas upon his redemption.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra made the Christmas carols feel extra jubilant this year.  Jim Othuse’s sets take you back to Victorian-era London with its old time shops and street lamps, the cold, lonely home of Scrooge with its sterile walls, to the poor, but homey abode of the Cratchits, to the stars of the night sky as Scrooge and Christmas Past fly on his 4 poster bed.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco’s sounds always add that something special from the ringing of the bell to end the work day to the chiming of Scrooge’s clock to the tinkling sounds accompanying the arrival of ghosts.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes will transport you to Dickens’ world with the poor, but functional clothing of the Cratchits to Scrooge’s dark finery, and gorgeous dresses and suits of ladies and gentlemen in celebration scenes.  Michelle Garrity’s choreography is spot on and elegant and her dancers are so graceful. 

It’s an Omaha classic, but you’ll feel like you’re experiencing it for the first time this year.  Come forth and know it better, man.

A Christmas Carol runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse until Dec 23.  Showtimes are Wednesdays at 7pm, Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 6:30pm.  Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased by visiting the Box Office, calling 402-553-0800, or visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

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