By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review
What is it about the Christmas season that brings out the grouch in some people? Is it all that talk about peace, joy, love and brotherhood?
San Diego theatergoers are typically blessed (if that’s quite the word) with two Christmas grumps. A few weeks ago, we saw the arrival of that moldy green monster, the Grinch, stomping around the Old Globe and trying to ruin everybody else’s Christmas.
Now it’s the British contingent’s turn, with that penny-pinching, no-good Ebenezer Scrooge polluting politeness by “humbugging” around and snarling at those nice ladies collecting for charity.
Cygnet Theatre is back with its fifth edition of “A Christmas Carol,” a jolly, scary, funny, festive musical retelling of the old Dickens story.
Yep, it’s all those things in turn — sometimes all at once.
This year Director Sean Murray has opted for minimal staging and maximal music. His score including two new songs and new verses for old favorites “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and the French carol “Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella.”
The ghosts? They’re different, too. Christmas Past is a trio of women all in white; Present is David McBean in a voluminous full-length green velvet coat. The last — Christmas Yet to Come — is the scariest, complete with ominous-looking black cloth draped from the ceiling.
It all works for two reasons: a good story, adapted by Murray, with music by Billy Thompson; and a stunningly talented cast of seven who sing, play, dance and portray multiple characters. (Okay, six do — the old grump just gets to grouse a lot.) Most are returnees; all are magnificent.
By now, Tom Stephenson has perfected the geezer Scrooge, who has misplaced his humanity but may eventually find it again.
David McBean, master of over-the-top characters, has a great time at the top of the show as Marley, who enters dragging heavy metal chains “forged in life” and warning old partner Scrooge of what might await him. He also plays young Scrooge’s buddy Dick, who works with Ebenezer at Mr. Fezziwig’s — and, of course, Christmas Present.
Patrick McBride is great as Scrooge’s frozen-fingered clerk Cratchit, father of Tiny Tim, and as young Scrooge’s jolly old boss Fezziwig, who throws a terrific holiday party for his employees, where they “gather together to party all night and celebrate Christmas Day.”
Melissa Fernandes brings attitude to Scrooge’s beleaguered (harried?) housekeeper Mrs. Dilbur, as well as kindliness to Mrs. Cratchit and her multiple talents to a few other characters.
Melinda Gilb amuses as Mrs. Fezziwig, a young Cratchit and one of the charity solicitors. Charles Evans, Jr. makes a sympathetic young Scrooge. Both are fine as several other characters as well.
Megan Carmitchel exudes charm as young Scrooge’s girlfriend Belle, and shows her versatility as the Cratchits’ daughter Martha and in other roles — notably the voice of the puppet Tiny Tim.
Andrew Hull’s set is simple and effective; Jeanne Reith’s costumes are lovely; and Kyle Montgomery’s lighting and Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound design are both excellent.
Katie Banville’s elegant choreography — and the rest of the musical events — are ably supported by music director Patrick Marion, who plays an onstage piano.
Let’s face it: it’s not Christmas without Scrooge, and Cygnet’s the best place to find him.
—Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.