Music Guild’s ‘Christmas Carol’ A Great Echo Of A Holiday Classic
One of the great pleasures about seeing a show at Quad City Music Guild, or any theatre for that matter, is the chestnuts. The easter eggs. The little chocolate nuggets. The moments that happen upstage, behind a group of people, that you notice because you’re like Bill Marsoun or me and you’re watching everybody up there.
A Christmas Carol, produced by Music Guild and going up at Prospect Park Auditorium, is just that show. The show, which only had a one-weekend run Dec. 1-4, was a great echo of the perennial holiday classic, full of great inside moments.
Tom Naab (Peter Pan, A Christmas Survival Guide, My Favorite Year at Music Guild, The Last Romance at Richmond Hill), plays Ebenezer Scrooge. I had Row E. And I barely recognized him. Maybe it was the shaving of the moustache. Maybe it was the make-up. But he was completely transformed.
Those familiar with the classic novel by Charles Dickens will know that Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser. He counts his money at his exchange house in Victorian England. He hates his coworkers. He sneers at his nephew. He abhors the holidays. So he’s even crankier than normal to have townspeople wishing him Merry Christmas everywhere he goes.
The great thing about Scrooge’s crustiness (a “scrooge” is now a predicate nominative used to describe a person who is a selfish, unpleasant jerk, thanks to Dickens) is how it throws into sharp relief how kind everyone is around him. Bob Cratchit (Kevin Pieper) is delighted to have enough money to bring home a whole chicken for a Christmas dinner, and is thankful for everything he’s got. Even though his son, Tiny Tim (Alex King) is in poor health and has a chronic leg injury, he’s grateful for his family.
Then there’s Fred, Scrooge’s nephew (Zach Hendershot). Fred’s been familiar with his mean Uncle Scrooge his whole life. But he keeps welcoming him back. He keeps coming back for more punishment. He’s a refreshing specimen of nature.
Adam Sanders played Jacob Marley (Abel in Children of Eden this past summer). And Jacob Marley wants to warn Scrooge that he’s going to have to change his ways or else he’s going to spend his afterlife in chains, with a chest of money that will be of no use to him.
Then come the Ghost of Christmas Past (Tommy Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt), the Ghost of Christmas Present (David Miller), and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Leigh VanWinkle).
By way of the past, we see that Scrooge wasn’t always nasty.
As a child, Ebenezer (Ryan Sondergoth) begs for the courts to not take his father away to debtor’s prison. Ebenezer has only his older sister Grace (Molly Ahern) to take care of him. And soon they get separated and raised by different families.
It goes without saying the holidays were not warm for him growing up.
Young Scrooge (also played by Zack Hendershot, who I never get tired of ever), was in love. He had a fiancée, Sally (Sara Tubbs). If Scrooge ever had a shot at real happiness, it was her. She didn’t need wealth. But so traumatized was he by watching his dad go to prison for not paying bills, Scrooge resolves to spend every waking moment in his business, his money exchange. So important is this life goal to him that he gives up the love of his life. Tubbs and Hendershot make this so heartaching, because the affection that they portray on stage is so real.
The dance numbers with Jacob Marley, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, the Ghost of Christmas Future, and the Fezziwig Christmas party do make this a vibrant show. They provide welcomed cheer.
The consequence of Scrooge’s low wages for his employees and general lack of charity is that those in his employ live in poverty. As we see in the future, Tiny Tim, for want of nourishment, will perish. The Ghost of Christmas Present warns Scrooge of this in the second act. And by this time, the Christmas miracle has already begun to set in. Scrooge is concerned. He doesn’t want to have Bob Cratchit’s son go to his demise.
Then there are the chestnuts I was talking about. First of them was the cheeky maid of Ebenezer. “Hey, she’s good, I think I’ve seen her in stuff before,” I thought to myself of the female actor whose face was obscured by her bonnet while lashing out that Scrooge would only get gruel for dinner. Then I realized why this actress was so familiar. It was my own wife. Sara Laufer and I have an unspoken agreement to never spoil too much for each other when one of us is in a show. She generously left this a complete surprise to me that she was a maid. Merry Christmas, sweetheart.
Then there was Andy Sederquist and Matt Holmes. Most of the play they are drunk upstage. I appreciate the drunk townsperson in a Music Guild. I had the great privilege of twice being the drunk townsperson in a Music Guild show. In 2009, I was a townsperson who sat down to drink with a seventeen year old during “Heartbreak Hotel” in All Shook Up. In It’s a Wonderful Life, I was Ernie the Cabdriver. And I was a derelict drunk during the “Pottersville” scene. Matt and Andy fulfilled a long-standing Music Guild tradition of just providing enough comic relief for those paying attention without upstaging the performers.
Then there was the snow at the end. I love snow in the holiday musical. This snow was interesting. In particular areas, it fell really hard! I thought of Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, when the rainstorm starts that only falls on him. Certain actors really got it.
A Christmas Story was a much needed shot in the arm of Christmas cheer for me. Director Mike Turczynski did a great job with direction and set design. Particular props to Deb Shippy as stage manager, Heather Beck and Deb Swift on Music duty (great great pit for this show!) Hillary Pieper’s choreography, and Jessica Blaum’s costume design. You’ve got two more opportunities to get out and see this one. It’s a keeper.