“Lyric's A Christmas Carol” had something for nearly everybody to relate to — whether it was the carols, the special effects, the acting of a stellar cast, or the abbreviated running time of the holiday classic.
Lasting less than two hours in the streamlined adaptation by director Michael Baron, the production did sometimes come across as Dickens-Lite, but, for the most part, a good time was had by all. The production features a set that suggested Big Ben towering over the silhouettes of buildings on a wintry London street.
Jonathan Beck Reed was a daunting presence as the early, Christmas-hating Ebenezer Scrooge, keeping his office too cold, and children, the poor and charitable types at bay, verbally or with his cane.
This made it even more moving when Scrooge's ice-hard certitude gave away to almost humorous uncertainty, followed by the giddy zeal of the convert when he rediscovers Christmas — and his own humanity.
Helping him achieve this near-miraculous transformation, ready or not, were the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, plus that of his “dead as a doornail” former business partner, Jacob Marley.
Confronting Scrooge, perhaps the most powerfully, was Thomas Cunningham as Marley, who emerged as a gray, ashen apparition, from behind his portrait, wearing “the chains he forged in life.”
Cunningham also had some great moments as the youthful Scrooge's boisterous but good-hearted boss, Mr. Fezziwig, dancing up a storm with his wife, played with gusto by Brenda Williams.
Jayme Petete was dazzling instead of threatening as the Ghost of Christmas Past, who seemed to enjoy flying, on a track over the heads of Scrooge and the audience, wearing a glittering white costume.
Wearing a long green dress, Mandy Jiran as Christmas Present was both robust and forceful, giving Scrooge dire warnings that were reinforced by the giant, skeletal, dark-robed figure of Christmas Future.
Contrasting nicely with Scrooge were the naively appealing performances of Matthew Alvin Brown as his nephew, and Tom Huston Orr as Bob Cratchit, both of whom insist on toasting him despite his bad behavior.
Objecting to this in a pithy anti-Scrooge speech was Susan Riley as Mrs. Cratchit, who sees him as one of the chief reasons for their meager circumstances and Tiny Tim's precarious hold on life.
Adding to the impact of these performances were special effects that included lighting, smoke and what looked like snow flakes falling, plus carolers and others coming up the aisles in superb period costumes.
Contributing further to the festive mood of the production, which sponsors hope becomes a “holiday tradition,” are alternating “holly” and “ivy” casts of children, just discovering the magic of Charles Dickens.
“Lyric's A Christmas Carol” is recommended and well worth attending, for the first time, or again, during its run through Dec. 29.
— John Brandenburg