Review: A Christmas Carol

Dirk Lumbard in A Christmas Carol                                                              Photo by KO Rinearson

By Larry Laneer
December 3, 2018

How does Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma keep its production of A Christmas Carol so fresh year after year? This is the show’s eighth year, the third time for the current staging after the initial production’s five-year run.

 One thing is—and this is where many theater companies go wrong—they begin with quality material. Some of Charles Dickens’s dialog and humor sound as if they could have been written last week. The deft adaptation by Lyric’s producing artistic director Michael Baron, who also directs the show, respects the original story and language. Dickens covers a lot of universal themes in a short time, all of which are still relevant. You will see Want and Ignorance (played to fine effect by child-sized puppets in this production) in the news today, the latter every time Donald Trump opens his mouth.

Next, Baron employs a top-notch cast, which doesn’t change much each year. Thus, the actors can plumb the characters’ depth and experiment with many performance subtleties. Dirk Lumbard is back for the third year as Scrooge, and he is fleshing out the role. His first utterance is a rumbling growl. His Scrooge has a palpable mean streak, so his transformation at the end spans a greater gamut.

Thomas E. Cunningham as Marley’s ghost (in a fright wig), Fezziwig (a carrot top), and Old Joe (stringy gray) shows a remarkable range of characters. Old Joe is a bit part in only one scene, but Cunningham wrings every possible nuance out of the character.

Matthew Alvin Brown and Brenda Williams serve as narrators and in other roles. Brown, who sometimes walks up to the precipice of mugging, makes a socially awkward Topper. In the scene with Cunningham’s Old Joe, Williams plays a delicious character who steals the shirt off Scrooge’s corpse to sell for a pence or two.

Other performances equal the above. Mateja Govich thunders in as the Ghost of Christmas Present looking like if Poseidon and Liberace had a baby. As Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, Andi Dema gives a heart-felt performance. Natalya Fisher does somersaults as the airborne Ghost of Christmas Past. Susan Riley and Lexi Windsor play the solicitors who draw Scrooge’s ire, among other roles. Jennifer Lynn Teel is Mrs. Fred, and Kizzie Ledbetter and Charlie Monnot are the Cratchits. Most of these actors have been with the production for years and give the show its solid foundation. The production also has several child actors, the “Holly Cast” and the “Ivy Cast.” The former played the reviewed production and did a fine job.

But the production’s artistic design takes the show up a notch. Kimberly Powers’s scenic design, Weston Wilkerson’s lighting, and Josh Schmidt’s sound design are so fully and carefully integrated, it’s hard to talk about them separately. Powers’s period-authentic red bricks with woodwork in an appealing green are a scaffold for Wilkerson’s thoroughly modern lighting. Schmidt’s sound creates tension with a pulsing ostinato and booms with horror-film rawness.

Before the show begins, the cast enters down both aisles of the Plaza Theatre chatting up the audience, an annoying gimmick by Baron (and many other directors). But it does give you a chance for a close look at Jeffrey Meek’s sumptuous costumes, which take the production up another level. Note the mink muff (or, one hopes, fake-mink muff) Windsor carries as a solicitor.

Appropriately for a Lyric production, the show includes several yuletide songs. The orchestration of the recorded accompaniment is completely modern and percussion heavy. That’s fine. In future productions, will Baron rethink the orchestration and consider live musicians?

When the cast sings at the end of the show “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” it sounds as if they’re referring to Scrooge. He has made his transformation, and Lord Scrooge reigns as a benevolent peer. Then the fake snow falls in the Plaza as the audience heads for the exits.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Michael Baron
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. Fridays,
2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sundays, through
December 24,

Special performances 7:30 p.m Tuesday, December 18, and Monday, December 24
Plaza Theatre
1725 NW 16th St.
Tickets start at $25
405-524-9312

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