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Reviews



Center REPertory's A Christmas Carol is better than ever


By Pat Craig
December 9, 2012

 

Center Repertory Company's "A Christmas Carol" has launched the Christmas season for many area families who view the show as an annual must-see.

This year, the show roars onto the stage with a new look and a new Scrooge (Mark Anderson Phillips, who is terrific). But after well over a decade, it maintains some traditions in terms of the set, familiar cast members and the excellent adaptation of the Dickens story by Cynthia Caywood and Richard L. James.

So there's plenty to please everyone, from the die-hard traditionalists to those who yearn for changes.

It is, of course, the same tale of the redemption of the miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, following post-midnight visits from the ghosts of past, present and future Christmases. But the addition of Phillips has given Scrooge's interaction with the spirits a whole new energy and feel. He brings an enormous amount of physicality to the role, infusing Scrooge with the spirit of a young man and the characterization of a doddering old man. He has created a perfect voice for the character, which adds both to Scrooge's creepiness and his humor.

The real comic force, however, is once again Michael Ray Wisely, a veteran of this production who plays the spirit of the present. He tackles the role as a Scotsman in another memorable performance. So memorable, in fact, he usually draws a huge ovation the moment he explodes from Scrooge's bed in a storm of confetti. And he manages to keep his performance fresh, finding new pieces of comedy each year.

What really makes this production work well year after year is its ensemble nature. The number of returning cast members is strong testimony to the show's popularity with its actors. And the occasional additions to the cast give the piece a fresh look without losing its charming familiarity.

Another element to the show's success is its look -- created by director Scott Denison, who pays as much attention to the technical side of the production as he does the performances.

Denison tries to add new technical pieces to the show each year, with the digital picture shown in Scrooge's front door, and the flying of several of the characters, or their likenesses, throughout the show.

And the whole thing unfolds on a massive set designed and annually improved by Kelly James Tighe, who has done much work on the Lesher Center stages and knows the space as well as anyone. It's a kick each year to see the changes Tighe and Denison have teamed to make.

Finally, each year's production of "A Christmas Carol" has plenty of roles for young performers, which gives the show a family feel and affords the young actors a chance to both appear in a main stage production and play in age-appropriate roles.




Center REP's A Christmas Carol one of a kind


By Harmony Wheeler
December 10, 2012

 

A number of factors combine to make Center REPertory Theatre’s adaptation of Charles Dicken’s classic “A Christmas Carol” a one-of-a-kind experience. Special effects throughout the show add to the excitement and surprise of the play as a fantastic cast gives familiar characters unique personalities.  

The story everyone knows follows the miserly, old Ebenezer Scrooge (the fitting Mark Anderson Phillips), the ultimate hoarder when it comes to gold. When his clerk, Bob Crachit (played with humble honesty by Michael Wiles) and his nephew (a cheerful Joel Roster) wish him a Merry Christmas, the embittered Scrooge greets them with a forceful “Bah, Humbug.” But when Scrooge’s dead business partner Marley (Jeff Draper) visits him from the grave, carrying with him the chains he forged in life, a journey toward reclamation begins. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future each usher Scrooge to old and new memories, showing him the spirit of Christmas that even he once possessed.

A warm, thoughtful narrator’s voice recites pieces of Dicken’s original novel throughout the show, sometimes detracting from the actors’ ability to tell the story with action, but often giving the production a distinctive edge. The role might serve the show better with a live narrator on stage rather than a pre-recorded track from Ken Ruta. Ruta’s vocal inflictions do not change enough during the darker moments of the show, but, overall, Ruta provides a wonderful way to draw the audience in. It’s as if Dickens, himself, were telling the story, bringing the pages to life.
A quartet of carolers also moves the show along. They introduce the show along with the narrator, and their harmonious vocals help with transitions between scenes. Even those tired of Christmas carols can enjoy these moments. The carols are well sung and feel perfectly fitted to the show. At key moments, the rest of the cast joins in, filling Kelly James Tighe’s raw, London-inspired scenic design.

The grand, but static sets keep scenes from seeming complete at times, but they beautifully complement the larger-than-life sensation that the Hoffman theatre stage contributes.

Tighe and director Scott Denison make perfect use of Marley’s chains and sudden entrance. Dramatic lighting by John Earls gives Marley an eerie look as he struggles with his chains and two demon-like beings pulling him back to his cursed fate. Earls’ talents also come into play during a fantastic black lit Christmas future sequence. Ryan Cowles manages to walk smoothly and flawlessly under the oversized Ghost of Christmas Future, a tall black figure with skeleton hands and a garment covered in leaves and other loose items.

Other special effects make the show different, such as when Christmas past’s starry, white dress begins to shine, covered in lights. Kerri Shawn plays a bubbly, whimsical Ghost of Christmas Past, while Michael Ray Wisely adds an extra element of fun to the show as the Scottish-inspired Ghost of Christmas Present. Wisely’s turn on stage is perhaps the most memorable of all. His puffy costume (designed by Michael A. Berg) and outgoing personality make him a matchless Ghost of Christmas Past in an interpretation of the character not likely to be found elsewhere in the bay area.

The bay area offers many wonderful renditions of “Christmas Carol” this holiday season, and many more exist throughout the U.S. Among them, Center REP’s version must bet at the top. The classic play has become somewhat of a tradition for the company, and with such an exceptional staging, it’s no wonder the play regularly sells out.

Another element to the show's success is its look -- created by director Scott Denison, who pays as much attention to the technical side of the production as he does the performances.

Denison tries to add new technical pieces to the show each year, with the digital picture shown in Scrooge's front door, and the flying of several of the characters, or their likenesses, throughout the show.

And the whole thing unfolds on a massive set designed and annually improved by Kelly James Tighe, who has done much work on the Lesher Center stages and knows the space as well as anyone. It's a kick each year to see the changes Tighe and Denison have teamed to make.

Finally, each year's production of "A Christmas Carol" has plenty of roles for young performers, which gives the show a family feel and affords the young actors a chance to both appear in a main stage production and play in age-appropriate roles.



Curtain Calls: Chain-clanking ghosts, sparkling apparations and much more await audiences


By Sally Hogarty
December 11, 2012

 

Chain-clanking ghosts, sparkling apparitions and much more await audiences attending Center Rep's production of "A Christmas Carol."

Running through Dec. 16, at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts, the show adds plenty of glittering special affects to the cold, gray world inhabited by the denizens of Dickens' London.

"I love what designer Kelly Tighe has done to the set," says Richard James, who along with Cynthia Caywood, adapted the show many years ago. "And Mark Anderson Phillips as Scrooge is just as I originally envisioned the character."

Director Scott Denison enhances his already fine cast with several new actors for this production.

The newbies include Maggie Mason (a nuanced Mrs. Cratchit); Tim Homsley (a lively Mr. Boxer/Snuffbox/Pip); Ginny Wehrmeister (a lovely Lavinia); Jeff Draper (marvelous as Marley/Topper/Old Joe); and 7-year-old Brady Wright (Tiny Tim).

Returning to add new touches to their already marvelous portrayals are Scott Strain and Jeanine Perasso (Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig); Joel Roster (Fred Hastings), Michael Wiles (Bob Cratchit), and Michael Ray Wisely (Ghost of Christmas Present). Kerri Shawn also returns to the cast, but this year she plays the Ghost of Christmas Past with a shimmering intensity.

 



Center REP's A Christmas Carol Celebrates the Season in Classic Fashion


By Evan Almdale
December 14, 2012

 

Everyone at some time or other has seen one of the many versions of the classic "A Christmas Carol", whether it be on television, at the movie theater or a live production. Center REPertory Company's production of "A Christmas Carol" is pitch perfect. It follows the original script, but sprinkles some humorous moments that bring it up-to-date at bit.

The cast of 30 keeps the story moving at all times, but Mark Anderson Phillips, who plays the role of the miserly, joyless Scrooge, is phenomenal. His performance had the audience on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what would happen next. Phillips, a renown Bay Area actor, brings a real dynamic to the role, and almost by himself, brings the story to life.

The outlandish antics of Michael Ray Wisely, as Christmas Present and the daunting specter of Jacob Marley, played by Jeff Draper, were both fresh and exciting.

Also, the set designs (by Kelly Tighe) made you feel like you are right there on the streets of England, as the clock seemed to turn back time. Plus, the dazzling special effects had the audience stare in amazement.

All in all, Center REP's "A Christmas Carol" is one you won't want to miss. It's a great night out and will most assuredly leave the theatre ready to give someone a hug.