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A Christmas Carol Returns to Sacramento Theatre Company

All Photos: Barry Wisdom

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is possibly the most popular Christmas story ever written, with the exception of the Nativity story itself.

Long before radio, television and the multimedia assault we have today, live theatres – from professional to the smallest community – were producing adaptations of Dickens’ novel.

For decades the theatre-going public has continued to embrace “A Christmas Carol,” giving the theatres producing it a nearly surefire hit. Many theatre companies depend on their holiday classics the way retail stores depend on the holiday shopping season. 

Sacramento Theatre Company now alternates “A Christmas Carol” with its other popular holiday show, “Cinderella.”

Playwright Richard Hellesen adapted Dickens’ novel as a stage play for Sacramento Theatre Company, premering December 1987.  His adaptation, while maintaining the core story from the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption, it also highlights what London’s pastimes were during the mid-1800s – singing, dancing and playing word games were all popular activities. 

The music of David De Berry also sets this production apart from others. De Berry wrote original music and adapted carols and songs of the period. In the 90s, composer Gregg Coffin oversaw the orchestral reconstruction and rerecording of the orchestral music.

The original choreography by Marcy Goodnow with work from associate choreographer Nancy Longo enlivens the show with dance. 

Suzanne Hurt’s preview goes into detail on B. Modern’s original costume design with additional costume design by Jessica Minnihan. The costume design is literally rags to riches. 

The original scenic design  by John Klonowski, lighting by Victor En Yu Tan and additional design by Jordan Burkholder, is impressive and functions well. The lighting and fog are key elements in setting the mood and ushering in the ghosts.

While all of these factors build a great look and feel, and contribute to an accessible “Christmas Carol” for both young and old, the core story is still about Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption.

It is the portrayal of Scrooge that makes the difference between a good and a great production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Fortunately for STC, they have Matt K. Miller, an outstanding and very experienced Scrooge.

Matt K. Miller as Ebenezer Scrooge

Miller goes through a very believable transition from Scrooge the miser, who only lives to work, to the Scrooge that is loving, giving and wants to share life with others.

Even when Scrooge is just standing and watching what the three ghosts reveal, Miller displays the powerful impact of the discovery of what he is missing in life and how he lost what is now missing.

The multi-talented Miller has acted for many years at STC and other stages. He has also directed plays (currently “Owl and the Pussycat”) and is the new artistic director at STC.

In speaking with “Carol” director Michael Laun after the show, he praised Miller’s openness to taking direction, even with many years of portraying Scrooge under his belt.

Only a great actor is able to keep finding new insights in a role he/she has done many times before.

There are several other wonderful singer/dancer/actors in the production. Even with a large cast, the play has so many characters that most of the actors portray multiple characters.

STC associate artist Michael R.J. Campbell played Goneril, one of the ugly stepsisters, in last year’s production of “Cinderella,” among many other roles.

Here, he portrays the first subscription gentleman (asking Scrooge for money), a very wild Ghost of Christmas Present, Fezziwig, and Belle’s husband (after she breaks up with a young Scrooge.)

Michael R.J. Campbell as Fezziwig 

The Ghost of Christmas Present and Fezziwig, big boistrous roles, are the type of roles that Campbell excels in.

Lucinda Hitchcock Cone returns to the STC stage, having appeared in this season’s opener “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Cone is a prolific actress who has appeared on many stages here in Sacramento, the Bay Area and across the country.

The characters she portrays here are a guest at Fred’s party, a delightful Mrs. Fezziwig, Belle the Matron and a suitably nasty charwoman.

Gillen Morrison plays the key role of Bob Cratchit, as well as the fiddler at the Fezziwig party. Morrison has appeared several times at Capital Stage and at many regional theatres in the area. He has acted in four previous STC productions of “A Christmas Carol. Morrison is also the dialect coach for the production.

Jerry Lee is Scrooge’s nephew Fred, Dick Wilkins (at Fezziwig’s party) and the undertaker’s man. Since graduating from The Pacific Conservatory of the Arts, Lee has appeared in several community theatre productions in the Sacramento area. He is a regular at the very popular “Grahamarama.”

Maggie Hollenbeck is wonderful as Mrs. Cratchet and the Ghost of Christmas Past. Hollenbeck was a co-founder and former artistic director of Artistic Differences Theatre Company where she appeared in several roles.

Maggie Hollenbeck as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Matt K. Miller as Ebenezer Scrooge

Fred’s wife, the first Miss Fezziwig and the laundress are played by five time “Carol” actress Orlana M. Klip. She has also appeared in numerous community theatre productions while maintaining a day job in IT.

The Ghost of Jacob Marley (Scrooge’s dead business partner) and Old Joe are played by Jim Lane. Lane has been acting for 48 years on stage (Music Circus) and in film (Bird.) He is also a film reviewer for the Sacramento News and Review.

Jim Lane as the Ghost of Jacob Marley

Blair Leatherwood also in this season’s opener “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and Zack Sapunor (Always Patsy Cline) round out the actors for adult characters. Leatherwood portrays a guest at Fred’s party and the second subscription gentleman.  Sapunor plays Topper (at Fred’s party) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Ebenezer the Young Man, the tailor and the second suitor (at Feziwig’s party) are played by Caleb Salmon. Salmon is a graduate of the Sacramento Theatre Company’s Young Professionals Conservatory (YPC.) Now in college is an Equity Membership Candidate.

Caleb Salmon as Ebenezer the Young Man, Ella Isaguirre as Belle

The well known character Tiny Tim Cratchit is played by six year old Dylan Margolis. He has been acting for two years appearing in “Thumbelina” and “Your’e a Good Man Charlie Brown”.)
 

Matt K. Miller as Ebenezer Scrooge, Dylan Margolis as Tiny Tim

There are so many things that come together to make Sacramento Theatre Company’s “A Christmas Carol” a true holiday treat.

There is the play itself, the music and dance, the visuals of set and lighting and the great costumes. But what really shines are the great characters – from Ebenezer Scrooge to Tiny Tim (written over a century and a half ago) – played by good to great actors that understand the characters so well.

It is also an opportunity for the budding actors in the community to show what they can do as a holiday present to their families, friends and the whole audience.

 

Coming next:  The children of “A Christmas Carol” and STC’s Young Professionals Conservatory

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