Tears of Christmas

It’s the story of one man’s salvation through the saving power of Christmas.  It’s A Christmas Carol and it is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

OCP’s classic tradition is back on stage for the 47th time and this marks my third year in a row reviewing it and, I believe, my fifth time reviewing a version of this show.  I’m sometimes asked why I would review a show I’ve reviewed before and the answer is simple.

It’s never quite the same show.

Actors change.  Directors change.  Crew members change.  And with every change comes a new bit of insight.  A different way of doing things that makes the show original unto itself.  Even if everything were identical from the previous year, it would still be different because new and fresh inspirations would be infused into the show.  As it happens this show had a number of changes this year beginning with a blend of the new and classic as Susie Baer-Collins returns to direct the holiday tradition along with OCP Artistic Director, Stephen Santa, and Jim McKain who were making their directing debuts with this show.  The end result was the most moving rendition of A Christmas Carol I have witnessed at OCP.

With the fusion of the three directors, you assuredly see elements and moments from past productions of the show, but you also see new and original ones as well.  You also get a crucial new element that I had never seen in any previous production:  somberness.  This show began with a very sad feeling, almost as if Scrooge’s essence was infused into every jot and tittle of this world.  I admit I was hooked and I shed a few tears along the way.  Baer-Collins, Santa, and McKain guided their performers to solid performances and had me believing in Christmas’ power.

I always enjoy watching the ensemble, especially when they’re really into their performances.  As I gazed about and saw the smiling faces and lights in the eyes of the actors, I was well and truly sucked into their world.  Some stellar performances in the supporting cast came from Cullen Wiley as Topper who is truly amusing when he gives clues as he plays Yes and No at Fred’s party.  Jacob Roman brings a real meekness to Bob Cratchit whose strong heart allows him to work with the miserly and unkind Scrooge.  Christina Rohling is a loving mother and the rock supporting her husband as Mrs. Cratchit.

Don Keelan-White unlocked the full potential of Jacob Marley with his attack on the role this season.  There was something truly haunting (no pun intended) in both the supernatural and the emotional senses of the word with his performance.  He seemed otherworldly and very human at the same time.  His regret at his failure to help his fellow man during his lifetime was palpable and sincere and I loved his scaring the bejeepers out of Scrooge as he smacked his chains against the floor and pointedly warned Scrooge about the length and weight of his own invisible chains.

DJ Tyree was the Ghost of Christmas Present I had long envisioned.  Tyree just bled majesty and regality and basked in the essence of this spirit.  He had the jovial nature needed for this generous ghost, but also gave Scrooge a pointed verbal jab or two as he threw Scrooge’s cruel words back in his face when discussing the potential fate of Tiny Tim.

For the 17th and final time, Jerry Longe takes the reins of this show as Ebenezer Scrooge.  Indeed, I think the knowledge that this is his last go around added to some of the somber feeling of the show and certainly lent it an additional power.  Longe’s take on Scrooge this time was an angle I’ve never seen played before in any version and I really loved it.  Longe made Scrooge spiritually dead.  By that I mean, he was utterly emotionless.  Life held no joy for him and his accumulation of wealth was just something he did as it certainly brought him no happiness or comfort.  So convincing was Longe in this spiritual death that it made his Scrooge seem very old and frail.  It also had me riding along on Scrooge’s salvation train in a way I had never experienced it before.  Longe was shedding real tears at some points as Scrooge’s dead heart was slowly resurrected and I was searching for my own tissue right along with him.  His redemption had a purity I had never seen before and left me with a sense of divine satisfaction.

Longe seemed to improv asides a bit more this year, but they were fun and one aside had me doubled over with laughter. You’ll know it when you hear it. Truly, it is a fine finale for this treasure of local theatre.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra perfectly played the Christmas carols and hymns and there was an x factor this year that gave it that extra emotional punch.  Michelle Garrity’s choreography was always charming especially in the party scenes.  Linsday Pape’s costumes transport you to the Victorian era of Charles Dickens.  Jim Othuse’s set helps add to that feeling of a bygone era with the old-fashioned buildings and his lights add emotional depths with stars, the pale green of Jacob Marley, and the near total blackness while Scrooge waits for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco’s sounds always enhance things with the ghostly voice modifications for the spirits, the gentle tolling of a clock tower bell, and the tinkling sound hearkening the appearance of Ghost of Christmas Past.  Andrew Morgan’s properties add so much with the sight of feasts, toys, and Christmas items.  Darrin Golden’s technical direction makes the supernatural realistic and Janet Morr’s artistry enhances the sets.

I think you’re truly in for a Christmas treat this year as this incarnation of A Christmas Carol is going to hit you in a way you’ve never been hit before.  You’ll truly marvel at the power of Christmas.

A Christmas Carol runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Dec 23.  Showtimes are Wednesdays at 7pm, Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 6:30pm.  Tickets start at $40 and may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800, or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Omaha Community Playhouse

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