Theater Review 'A Christmas Carol'

By: 
Ben Miles

The enduring story of “A Christmas Carol” began as a novella by Englishman Charles Dickens. When it was initially penned in 1843, it was titled “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.” Over the centuries the tale has been told through various media, starting with print and including cinema, television and stage. In fact, Dickens himself, starting in 1857, began performing the story publicly, and continued doing solo performances of it through 1868, making adjustments to his performance as he traveled from place to place and audience to audience. The “Manchester Examiner” once noted in a review of Dickens’s efforts, “There is always a freshness about what Mr. Dickens does – one reading is never ... a mechanical following of the previous reading.”

The same may be said of one of the most venerable modern-day and memorable incarnations of “A Christmas Carol”; that is, the theatrical version being staged for the 39th year at Orange County’s South Coast Rep. This SCR perennial has become a holiday ritual in The OC and for theatergoers from around So Cal. The marvelous  Hal Landon Jr. is still heading the cast as Ebenezer Scrooge – as he’s done every season since SCR inaugurated this Yuletide tradition — this “Christmas Carol” is a show that doesn’t grow old or lose its poignancy.

Still using the script adapted by Jerry Patch and under the stalwart direction of John-David Keller (who’s been helming “Carol” since it first graced the SCR main stage in 1979), the themes and stagecraft have remained consistent in quality and audience satisfaction throughout the years. (Thomas Buderwitz’s scenic design and the late Richard Dwight Odle’s costuming have been mainstays in this seasonal celebration; Donna and Tom Ruzika’s affective lighting helps set the chilly scene and Drew Dalzell’s sound design echoes the cityscape of 19th century London.)

What changes in this archetypal tale of redemption – Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly misanthrope who rails at the notion Christmas, but is redeemed after visitations from four  ghosts – is certain members of the cast. Of course, the child actors (in over a dozen roles) are double cast. At the performance reviewed, Tiny Tim was sweetly played by Presley Coogan.

The ensemble of performers remains committed to conveying the story and all do so with freshness and élan.  Daniel Blinkoff, for example, is in his fifteenth-year playing Bob Cratchit and Jennifer Parsons is in her thirteenth-season as Mrs. Cratchit. Richard Doyle, a SCR founding artists does admirable duty as the spirit of Christmas Past for the 33rd year. The spirit of Christmas Present is again once embodied by Timothy Landfield. Kimberly Scott and Gregg Daniel are in the cast as Mrs. Fezziwig and Jacob Marley’s ghost, respectively. And Erika Schindele recreates her roles as a laundress, Belle and a scavenger.

But it is Hal Landon Jr. who provides the center of gravity for this durable show. His physical fluidity, his clear enunciation and his sheer endurance make him a living legend in the annals of the Southern California theater scene. What’s more, he doesn’t miss a beat or a hat trick in this latest staging (if you’ve seen the show you know what’s meant by “hat trick,” if not, see the show).

For those in the holiday spirit or for those wishing to get into the spirit, SCR’s “A Christmas Carol” is a perfect place to be and a fitting show to see. “A Christmas Carol” continues through Dec. 24. For ticket information and reservations, call (714) 708-5500. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.scr.org.

ben@beachcomber.news

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