‘Christmas Carol,’ ‘Bedford Falls’ fail to set my heart aglow
Two Christmas classics are on Central Florida stages in adapted form, and call me the Grinch but I prefer the source material.
The Garden Theatre is staging Michael Wilson’s version of “A Christmas Carol,” subtitled “A Ghost Story of Christmas,” adapted from Charles Dickens’ story of holiday-hating Ebenezer Scrooge and his redemption thanks to otherworldly intervention.
Meanwhile, Orlando Repertory Theatre has “Miracle in Bedford Falls” by Mark Cabaniss and Lowell Alexander. It’s a musical retelling of the beloved film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Surely I don’t have to explain to you George Bailey wishing he’d never been born and how every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings?
Both the Garden’s and the Rep’s productions are professional, polished and well-performed. But the actual scripts (and in the musical’s case, the songs) just don’t rise to the occasion.
Wilson’s version of “A Christmas Carol” isn’t sincere enough to be a drama, funny enough to be a comedy or spooky enough to be a thriller. It turns into a tepid combination of all three. Director Jeremy Seghers has some good ideas with his staging, but just can’t overcome the inherent weaknesses.
Bobbie Bell is delightful as Scrooge — snarling, bristling and just generally harrumphing with flair. And Janine Papin makes an attention-getting Jacob Marley in the one scene that actually does thrill. Max Kelly makes an auspicious Garden debut, as Scrooge’s ever-optimistic nephew, Fred.
But scenic designer Kyle Ransbottom’s set seems more serviceable than inspired, and it takes more than a few vocal tricks and claps of thunder to tell a ghost story. Sound designer Anthony Narciso’s original music does help set the mood, though, and the sound of a cold December London drizzle sent a chill of remembrance down my spine.
In the Rep’s “Bedford Falls,” Matthew Alexander does a swell job as too-good-for-his-own-good George. He has a toothy grin, but also can convey George’s frustration and anger. Tay Anderson is his appealing equal as a spirited Mary, the local gal who becomes his wife.
There are a couple of tunes worth noting: George’s “Every Dream I Ever Dreamed” and Mary’s “I Am Home” are winners. Even better: “Pottersville” — the villain number, complete with jazz hands. Ralph Prentice Daniel, a flamboyant villain in the Rep’s “Tuck Everlasting” this season, morphs into a hissing villain as the odious Mr. Potter — and he once again is a treat to watch.
Director Tara Kromer makes good use of her theater’s balconies as perches for angels Joseph and Clarence (E. Mani Cadet and Brian Chambers, both in lovely angelic form), but she can’t help the fact the connect-the-dots script often seems more about telling than showing. And there’s a repetitiveness to the song lyrics that starts to grate. I’d suggest creating a drinking game based on every time you hear the words “home,” “star” or the phrase “shakin’ the dust” — but you’d be face down in the eggnog by intermission.
Theater & Arts Critic