"A Christmas Carol," adapted by Tom Frey, opened Friday at the Historic Iao Theater to a more than large and friendly crowd. The theater was festively decorated and the unique set, designed by Caro Walker, was in itself a gigantic piece of art. Sitting centerstage is a London street scene which doubles as an advent calendar. Doors and windows open to reveal the face of Jacob Marley, stools, desks and Scrooge's bed. Flanking the advent flat are two Currier-and-Ives-like 12-foot Christmas Cards. The wonderful period costumes were made, not rented, by Linda Timms, most of them created from scratch. Alexis Dascoulias' simplified version puts all the focus on the cast, thereby requiring the actors to be present, consistent and believable. Musical Director Robert Wills asks the same of his a capella choir, all of whom shift in and out of scenes playing multiple characters throughout the show.
The play opens with an in-the- house entrance by Dylan Bode singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" very well. He is joined by the rest of the madrigals as they proceed to carol upon Scrooge's office, which is assembled before your eyes.
Recasting Mark Collmer as Scrooge is a Maui no-brainer, and he shines as always. Critiquing Collmer's Scrooge is like critiquing an athlete, because his next performance is going to be unique in its own right. Collmer's biggest obstacle as Scrooge is that he is delightful to watch as a jerk, too.
Mark Collmer is Scrooge and Gabe Frampton is Tiny Tim in this holiday delight from Maui OnStage.
Maui OnStage / JACK GRACE photo
Brian Connolly plays Bob Cratchitt who matches Collmer's stage presence scene-for-scene. Beth Garrow reprises her role as Mrs. Cratchitt and most of the finest, polished scenes involve the Cratchitts. The oft-overlooked Cratchitt family drives the audience's heart, and both Connolly and Garrow are exceptional. Rounding out their happy family are the immensely talented Zeb and Marley Mehring and Gabe Frampton, who comes close to stealing show as Tiny Tim.
The most magical element of the production is Dascoulias' use of the strolling carolers as both a diversion and scene changers. This keeps the show running at a fine clip, but it is also fun to watch, and the music is enchanting. At many a Maui show, a painful scene change can destroy the mood; that is not the case with "Carol."
Lee Garrow also reprises his role of Jacob Marley, but brings something different this year. Marley's ghost is much less scary and much more exhausted, defeated and charitable. Dascoulias wisely gives Maui a one-two- three punch of seasoned, well-trained actors right out of the gate.
* "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens' classic holiday story with music, adapted by Tom Frey, continues Friday through Dec. 11. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are $40, $22, and $15 for children 12 and younger. A First Friday family pack is available tomorrow night only: two adults and two children for $50. Dinner packages are also available for $40 per person. For more information, contact Maui OnStage at 242-6969 or visit mauionstage.com.
What an annual period "Carol" should continually aspire to is authenticity. Accents wander and fade at times, taking us out of that moment. Maui's "Carol" adds a dash of aloha and Maui time. The tale of Scrooge is one of redemption, or as the spirit of Christmas Past (Gracie Clark) clarifies, "You're reclamation." Clark is another returning cast member and she has built upon the angelic nice ghost delivering a much richer performance this year.
Frey's adaptation moves quickly in its second act. Christmas Present (Jason Strahn) towers over Scrooge. Strahn (also reprising his role) and Collmer have likeable chemistry providing comic relief, and Strahn delivers his punchlines very well.
Lee Garrow doubles as Christmas Future, and the starkness of the scenes makes ghost No. 3 much scarier this year. Also of note are the many ensemble players jumping in at any given moment to take on the multiple acquaintances of Scrooge: Russ Taft returns as Fezziwig, Bill Schnitzer as the Charity Man, newcomer David Michaels as Fred (the nephew), Christina Kaliponi as Fred's wife and Chloe Madriaga as Belle. Joel Agnew, Rueben Carrion and Charlie Dungans play all the "man in the street" roles, but all three have rich speaking voices and are well cast as the narrators.
At show's end Dungans states, "Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but (Scrooge's) own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him." Just as each performance and a director's vision may vary from "Carol" to "Carol," so can an audience's re-visit to Mr. Scrooge's dilemma. Maybe it isn't just about changing your ways, but will the victims forgive you? What if Scrooge were a Penn State coach? Scrooge's nephew Fred forgives, Cratchitt forgives, but what about the others who laughed? In a sense they too (all of us) are a part of the reclamation. Isn't that what Tiny Tim means when he says, "God bless us, everyone"?
At show's end, the caroling choir (Dylan Bode, Diana Clark Crim, Kevin Lawrence, Deanna Pennington, Bill Schnitzer, Trillum Seafyer, Russell Taft and Penny Wakida) lead the audience in a singalong of "Joy To the World." A lackluster effort would suggest the production fell short but the Maui audience leaped to its feet in song creating quite the chicken-skin Christmas moment, or to keep it within the period, goose pimples.