As festive as a Christmas bowl and classic as the beloved carols it showcases, Lyric Theatre's third annual production of “A Christmas Carol” proves a yuletide tradition worth treasuring.
Actor Christopher Bloch, based in Washington, D.C., makes his Lyric debut with his strong lead turn as Ebenezer Scrooge, the “bah, humbug”-ing miser whose hard heart is finally softened when he is haunted by three spirits on the night before Christmas. Carrying the story with his nuanced performance, Bloch, 58, gives the character a matter-of-fact cantankerousness in the opening scenes, then slowly and steadily shades his characterization with palpable feelings of loss, isolation, regret and, finally, hope and joy.
Also new to the cast, Jennifer Teel brings a joyful charm as The Ghost of Christmas Past, the first of the three spirits sent to redeem Scrooge from his life of selfishness, indifference and greed. Shining like the light of truth with her glistening white costume and wide, hopeful smile, Teel soars high above the stage and audience at Lyric's Plaza Theatre as she reveals scenes from Scrooge's painful past.
Apart from the alternating “Holly” and “Ivy” casts of talented children, most of the remaining players are returning favorites, and their familiarity and obvious affection for the material ensured that this year's opening night performance was entertaining and well-staged.
Tom Huston Orr imbues his portrayal of Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's abused but doggedly sweet-hearted clerk, with a poignant mildness, while Susan Riley flavors her portrayal as his loyal wife with just the right measure of tartness.
Matthew Alvin Brown crackles with genuine warmth as the grump's determinedly chipper nephew, Fred, and brings enough good cheer to his secondary role as Young Scrooge that the main character's future meanness seems even more tragic. Melissa Griffith glows as Young Scrooge's fiancee Belle, a poor but loving maid he eventually drives off with his money-grubbing ways.
As the ghostly Jacob Marley, Scrooge's long-dead business partner who heralds the arrival of the three life-changing spirits, Thomas E. Cunningham goes a bit over the top with the shouting and shambling, as if he's trying to compete rather than work with the solid special effects. But he effectively channels his considerable energies into his turns as Young Scrooge's lively employer Mr. Fezziwig and the dodgy black-market dealer Old Joe.
After her grand entrance zipping down the aisle in a great green sleigh, Mandy Jiran makes the show irresistibly merry, even when she delivers some of the play's most chilling lines, as the Ghost of Christmas Present. It takes the towering, screeching Grim Reaper-like specter of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come to keep the stage from feeling empty after she takes her leave.
Lyric Artistic Director Michael Baron, who adapted and directs the production, delivers a faithful version of Charles Dickens' well-loved tale. Jeffrey Meeks' lovely period costumes, Lee Savage's pretty and wonderfully serviceable set and occasional sprinklings of snow from the ceiling prove invaluable in breathing life into the well-known tale.
My favorite aspect of the production, though, was the canny integration of Christmas carols like “Good King Wenceslas,” “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Here We Come A-wassailing,” which the cast belted with such verve during set changes that it made those moments a pleasure rather than a disruption.
Performances of “A Christmas Carol” have become almost as common as Nativity scenes in Oklahoma City during the holiday season, but Lyric's production is a yuletide blessing to be praised.
— Brandy McDonnell