‘Christ­mas Carol,’ ‘Bed­ford Falls’ fail to set my heart aglow

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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.

Matthew J. Palm

The­ater & Arts Critic

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