Review: A Christmas Carol

W. Jerome Stevenson in A Christmas Carol                           Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
November 12, 2020

This marks the tenth year Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma has been staging A Christmas Carol. The production is revamped every five years, so this was to be last of the current version. Then, things went to hell in the pandemic with theater hit as hard as any industry.

Doing a show every year can become ritualistic, but one of the amazing facts about Lyric’s production has been how they’ve kept Christmas Carol fresh season after season for a decade. Thus, theatergoers will not be surprised the company came up with a brilliant concept and presents the familiar story in a completely new light.

Under the leadership of producing artistic director Michael Baron, who adapted Charles Dickens’s story for the stage, and top-notch collaborators, the company is presenting the show outdoors at the Harn Homestead, a territorial era farm smack dab in the middle of Oklahoma City, just a few blocks south of the state capitol. We’re used to seeing scenery move across the stage, but in this production, the scenery stays put, and the audience moves with the scene changes. It’s a pleasure to report this adaptation maintains the high standards Lyric has always had with this show.

The Harn Homestead has a two-story farmhouse, a wonderful stone barn, and other buildings. Lyric consulted a designer who’s an expert on outdoor theater. Scenes take place on front porches or rustic platforms built for this production, creating fine sightlines for the socially distanced audience, limited to 100 per performance. All this is seen under Fabian J. Garcia’s lighting design that about equals anything you would see Lyric do at the Plaza or Thelma Gaylord. Audience members are required to wear masks, so the fog on your eyeglasses adds to the atmosphere. Sound design has always been an important part of this show, and Josh Schmidt and Corey Ray have brought the electronic torrents to the farm. (One wonders what the neighbors think, though.)

Costumed “lamplighters” lead audience members in groups through the show. Directed by Baron and Lyric associate artistic director Ashley Wells and running one hour, 15 minutes without intermission, the show flows with the intricate smoothness of the first-class marching band. We still see the Ghost of Christmas Past aloft, while the Ghost of Christmas Present is in a loft. Jeffrey Meek’s costumes retain the subtle sumptuousness and edge of the indoor version. You wouldn’t want to meet the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in a dark alley. By keeping it simple, Lyric achieves a total effect that’s remarkably appealing. Something about several actors holding lanterns and spread across a lawn in a late scene has a quiet, dignified beauty.

The unmasked, socially distanced actors wear body microphones, and cleverly disguised speakers set throughout the playing area. The show plays for a much longer run than usual, so all roles are double cast, not just the children. At the reviewed performance, Jonathan Beck Reed, who originated the role of Scrooge in the first Lyric production, railed in top form as the world’s most infamous curmudgeon. W. Jerome Stevenson will alternate with Reed. This may inspire theatergoers to go twice to see both casts.

How Lyric leadership, staff, and artists came together to find the venue, adapt the show, and make it happen to a high degree of quality would be an outstanding theatrical achievement in any season. Now, it’s downright inspiring. Just when inspiration is one thing we need more of in these harrowing times.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Michael Baron
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:00 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Fridays-Sundays, through December 23
Harn Homestead
1721 N. Lincoln Blvd.
405-524-9312

Review: A Christmas Carol

Dirk Lumbard and Charlie Monnot in A Christmas Carol  Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
December 2, 2019

Lyric Theatre has reopened its A Christmas Carol for the ninth consecutive season, the fourth for this production. Surely, all theatergoers around here have seen this show at least once. If not, why not? Some theatergoers have been skeptical when I’ve highly praised this show, and that’s understandable.

In less capable hands, a theatrical adaptation of Dickens’s story could be maudlin or reek with religiosity. But adapted and directed by Michael Baron, Lyric’s production passes the test of time as a fine work of theater. That’s because the story is as relevant today as it was when Dickens published it in 1843, and Baron and his designers have successfully employed all the elements of modern drama. Although it would be hard for any show to retain the magic and surprise of seeing it for the first time, this production bears up even after four (or nine) years.

First, Jeffrey Meek’s beautiful costumes range from tasteful to spectacular. The authentic 19th-century clothes are handsome and detailed. You get a good look at them when the cast mingles with the audience before the show begins. Then you have the blue and white robe with a diamond-encrusted diadem Mateja Govich wears as the Ghost of Christmas Present. It bears repeating, this costume would come in handy if Govich is ever called upon to play God.

Kimberly Powers’s scenic design, mainly in red bricks, is convincing as mid-19th-century London. Movable elements and a turntable keep the action flowing through several scene changes.

Integrated with the period costumes and scenery are completely modern lighting by Weston Wilkerson and sound design by Josh Schmidt and Brad Poarch. Wilkerson employs a wide palette, and Schmidt and Poarch thunder, clank, roar, and whistle when appropriate. The Jacob Marley scene shakes the walls. The production includes several traditional carols and songs done to recorded accompaniment. Although Schmidt’s original music is highly electronic, it fits easily with the period setting.

This spectacle wouldn’t amount to much without top-notch acting and singing by the cast. Baron has made a few minor cast changes, but many Lyric regulars are back in their usual roles. Although you occasionally see a little ham, all do fine jobs. Dirk Lumbard as Scrooge is back for the fourth year. Charlie Monnot repeats as Bob Cratchit, while Nakeisha McGee is new as Mrs. Cratchit. Andi Dema returns as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew. Susan Riley and Jennifer Lynn Teel are fine in various roles. Thomas E. Cunningham is delightful in vastly contrasting roles. Brenda Williams and Matthew Alvin Brown serve as narrators and in other roles. Child parts have been double cast (the Holly Cast and Ivy Cast).

Next season will be the fifth and last for this particular staging. Lyric runs the show for five years, then brings out a completely new production. Don’t worry that it’s only A Christmas Carol. It’s hard to find fault with Dickens, and Lyric does a fine job bringing his story to life.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Michael Baron
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-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 22, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, December 23, and

2:00 p.m. Tuesday, December 24
Plaza Theatre
1725 NW 16th St.
405-524-9312

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