Arts & Culture

Trinity Rep greets season with seasoned favorite

Despite ill-conceived musical additions, “A Christmas Carol” pleases audience

Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, November 27, 2011

The ghosts of Trinity Repertory Company pack a light-hearted punch in the troupe’s 35th annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” The production is well-rounded and funny, despite a few musical shortcomings.

An all-around strong cast livens this adaptation, set in the 1950s, of the classic Charles Dickens tale. A dynamic Ebenezer Scrooge (Brian McEleney) approaches his part with personality and comic flair. McEleney navigates the difficult task of bringing something new to a classic role by sticking closely to the stereotype — an interpretation that proved comforting at some moments and familiarly dry at others.

The 1950s flair added a fresh perspective to the tale. The play leads with one of its strongest comedic moments — an over-the-top radio disk jockey announcing Christmas songs followed by a jazzy singer performing various numbers. The pair functions as something of a Greek chorus throughout the performance, supplying audience members with interjections that take the two out of the drama for a moment — an effect the audience seemed to enjoy.

Nearly every seat of Trinity Rep’s sizeable theater was filled for press night. The crowd was middle-aged to silver-haired with a few children sprinkled in. “A Christmas Carol” is a seasonal crowd-pleaser, and the audience left the theater smiling, the payoff for a strong performance of the classic show.

But this rendition included an ill-conceived innovation — the introduction of a few musical numbers, which the performers were unable to pull off successfully. Their voices generally lacked vibrato, and their performances suggested that they are well-trained in drama, but not musical drama.

The stand-out exception to this was the Ghost of Christmas Present (Ricky Oliver), who entered with a show-stopping performance of “Jingle Bell Rock” — easily the musical high point of the show. Oliver garnered the attention and admiration of the audience with ease. Few actors can fill a great vocal performance with comedy, but Oliver had the tricks to do just that.

The musical ensemble was small, consisting of piano, percussion, flute and clarinet. It supplied the audience with lush ’50s-era Christmas tunes, which provide an excellent reminder that this is, in fact, a Christmas show.

Though the plot of “A Christmas Carol” does not call for an especially involved staging, the set was well-built and impressively large. Two structures on the sides supported a large overhead walkway, which was used in many of the scenes, and the lighting on the stage was well-coordinated and dazzling.

The special effects used during appearances of ghosts, though hokey, gave the audience a strong sense that something frightening was afoot, and the elevator in the center of the stage floor allowed for many hellish descents and creepy effects.

Trinity Rep offers a generally strong performance and their low-key-yet-professional atmosphere is well-suited to a Christmas standard such as this. There won’t be a Scrooge left in the audience by the end of the night.

“A Christmas Carol” will run at Trinity Repertory Theater through Dec. 30.

Four out of five stars

Funny moments, strong acting but musical deficiencies

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