TheatreSquared’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” brought its audience laughter, wonder and emotional gut-punches in a charming production that seemed sure to become a Northwest Arkansas holiday tradition.
Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” opened Friday for a five-week run in the West Theatre, premieringTheatreSquared’s reimagining of the holiday classic. TheatreSquared artistic director Robert Ford and assistant artistic director Amy Herzberg, who is also the director, wrote the adaptation.
Set in Victorian-era London, TheatreSquared’s adaptation tells a timeless tale of Christmastime redemption through the eyes of a preteen boy and the young woman who shows him kindness.
Jack is a poor boy from a bad part of the city who finds himself stranded in the public library hours after closing time on Christmas Eve, waiting for his dockworker father to pick him up.
Wanting to lift Jack’s spirits, the librarian begins to read Jack one of the library’s newest arrivals: Charles Dickens’ first novella, “A Christmas Carol.” Much to Jack’s amazement, the scenes from the book start to unfold right in front of his eyes.
This clever framing device serves to move the fast-paced action along, establish changes in setting without the need for different scenery and give a unique element to a popular Christmas play.
The entire play takes place in front of one backdrop: the interior of the library. Aside from the moving about of wheeled props such as tables and benches, there are no major scenery changes over the course of the two acts.
The library set, complete with towering bookshelves, a grand fireplace, a moving ladder, flickering faux candles and spiral staircases, is truly gorgeous. The massive setpieces lining the stage are full of hidden features such as doors, nooks and moving parts that facilitate magical special effects.
Creative, beautiful lighting effects and clever sound design establish new settings and allow for quick, easy flow between “reality” (Jack and the librarian’s storyline) and “fiction” (Dickens’ tale).
Scenic designer Martin Andrew, lighting designer Megan Reilly and sound designer Tommy Rosati put forth beautiful design efforts, working together to create a captivating, enchanting and festive atmosphere. Costume shop manager and resident designer Ruby Kemph’s vibrant and historically accurate period costumes further the stage magic.
The cast of “A Christmas Carol” proved not only talented, but impressively versatile in its opening night performance. Each actor and actress in the production does double-, triple- or even quadruple-duty by playing multiple major and minor characters and/or a member of the ensemble. Each costume change and character transition, some of which happened very quickly, seemed to go off without a hitch.
James Taylor Odom gave an exceptional performance as main character Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly old creditor who is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve and forced to confront the effects that his greed and selfishness have had on others.
Odom’s timing and delivery were flawless, and his Scrooge brought both outbursts of cruelty and believable moments of human vulnerability. Odom’s comedic instincts were excellent, and his portrayal of a transformed, somewhat manic Scrooge on Christmas morning was pure gold.
Also noteworthy was Alex Dauphin as the Ghost of Christmases Past, Scrooge’s ex-fiance Belle and an ensemble member. Dauphin’s authenticity in her two main roles as gentle but strong characters, and her ability to play off of Odom’s Scrooge, made for a memorable, moving performance.
The children of “A Christmas Carol” also shone on stage. Beck Crabb, a seventh-grader, played Jack, amongst other characters, while third-grader Samuel Burrow and second-grader Cora Kemph both played Tiny Tim. All three showed impressive talent and discipline for such young actors.
With lovely design, skillful acting and a timeless message, “A Christmas Carol” at TheatreSquared is a perfect show for both the young and the young-at-heart.
“A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 27 in TheatreSquared’s West Theatre on Spring Street. Tickets start at $18. Thirty tickets to each show are reserved for $10 for people under 30 or students.