This past weekend, we had the opportunity to review the Chatham Community Players’ unique (and wonderful) musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The adaptation is by Philip William McKinley and Suzanne Buhrer and is directed by Jeffrey Fiorello with Jack Bender the musical director and Megan Ferentinos the choreographer.
This marks the 17th time that the Chatham Players has produced this show. From 1988-1995, the group produced the show every December, and it now produces the show on a biennial basis. This unique production has become a popular family tradition for many in the area – entertaining more than 32,000 audience members since 1988.
Unlike the standard version of “A Christmas Carol,” this version has Ebenezer Scrooge sharing the stage with Charles Dickens. Dickens participates in most scenes in his special role as the narrator….and who better to narrate than the author. We should note that we also reviewed the 2010 and 2012 productions. This year’s play is essentially identical to 2014 except for minor set and dialogue changes, modified choreography and the addition of one song …”Marley’s Lament” not heard since the musical was workshopped in the early 80’s in Las Vegas.
The script follows the original story of the re-birth of Scrooge rather faithfully, plus material the writers incorporated from letters Dickens wrote to family and friends for his commentary as he travels with Scrooge on his life-changing journey.
Playing Scrooge for the eleventh time (since 1988!) is the veteran actor Alan Semok. Semok, who has a long list of professional credits from both stage and television, His performance this year, as it the past editions, deserves a rave review. He is outstanding as Ebenezer making the transformation from the “cold-hearted, tight-fisted and greedy man, who despises Christmas and all things which give people happiness.” His “Only A Fool” song brought tears to the eyes of more than a few in the full audience.
Other standout actors include: Charles Dickens played in this edition by Chip Prestera. Prestera, CCP’s top comedy performer, and the 2012’s nephew Fred, nicely steps into the more dramatic role of Charles Dickens. He surprises with not only his dramatic talent but also his more than adequate singing and dancing skills. Scrooge’s nephew Fred in this edition is played nicely by Adrian Rifat. Scott Baird makes a fine Bob Cratchit (also fine voice displayed in the number “Not Tomorrow”) Samatha Kaplan as Mrs. Cratchit scores with the heart-tugging “If I Could Hold You In My Arms,”
Steven Nitka, another popular community theatre veteran, excels as Jacob Marley as do the three ghosts past, present and future– Adunni Rae Charles, Will Carey and Graham Helfrick. Will Carey also doubles very effectively as Mr. Fezziwig. Playing the second best known role is young Pierson Salvador as Tiny Tim. He is a charmer, specially with the sweet song “Tiny Tim’s Dream.”
The remainder of the large and talented cast includes: Andrea Thibodeau, Sarah Rappoport (lovely sweet voice), Brielle Raddi, Maryann and Randy Post, Joelle Bochner, Eila Francis, Jody and Parker Ebert, Alyssa Franck, Dash Green, Sasha Jacobs, Ryan Graziano and Meghan Sabin.
Since this is a musical, we applaud the excellent musicians under the leadership of Jack Bender (doubles on keyboard). They are: Jarred Lee keyboard 2; Paul Robertson percussion; and Jeff Little bass.
Director Fiorello nicely uses the entire space available in this semi theatre-in-the-round facility (The audience sits on three sides). The rear space is used impressively for several scenes including Scrooge’s home with several set pieces on turntables. Also, impressive is the entrance and exit of Marley’s ghost in chains (no spoiler here). Much of the action involving the speaking members of the juniors in the cast is wisely staged in the floor area closest to the audience. The sets, props, lighting and sound are all top level as are the attractive Victorian costumes. Just what we have come to expect again from Jeffrey Fiorello and his team (and the Chatham Players).
Fiorello’s creative staff, mostly repeating their 2012 positions- from choreographer Megan Ferentinos who again has the large cast moving smoothly-even the children. Ferentinos has revised and added to the earlier production; Bill Motyka set design; Fran Harrison costume design; Joe DeVico sound design; Richard Hennessy lighting design; Andrea Sickler scenic artist; Brian James Grace wigs; Tish Lum props and furniture; Pamela Wilczynski production coordinator; Debby Hennessy stage manager; Beth Vetter assistant stage manager; and the producers Bob Denmark and Chris Furlong.
Yes, there are many other versions of Dicken’s tale currently playing, of course, but this is a unique take of the “Carol” providing truly fine family entertainment…we urge you to call for tickets now. The Saturday performance we attended was ‘sold-out’ and only four performances remain.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio December 13, 2014
The remaining performance dates are December 19 and 20 at 8 PM, and December 20 and 21 at 3 PM. All performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham. Tickets are $25 for adults and $23 for youth/senior. For more information, call the box office at (973) 635-7363 or go to www.chathamplayers.org.
Note: The Chatham Community Players theater; there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The audience is seated on three sides, in this not quite, theater-in-the-round. Parking is free and plentiful. The theater is blessed with a good number of truly excellent restaurants within easy walking of the theater, as is the Chatham train station with express service to NYC.