A Christmas Carol

Local Arts Reviews

A Christmas Carol:Long Draughts of Warm Sweetness

McCallum Fine Arts Academy, through Dec. 14.

Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

'Tis the season once again, and 'tis in full swing. It may have felt like the season for a number of weeks now, but this past weekend is the real overture to Christmas: The Trail of Lights is open, fewer and fewer college football games (i.e., none involving UT) condemn potential shoppers to their televisions, and this weekend saw the floodgates open for the seasonal slew of concerts, dance recitals, and theatre productions chock-full of Christmas cheer. This year, there are (at least) two stage adaptations of Dickens' seasonal fable A Christmas Carol, and the joint production by Austin Playhouse and the McCallum Fine Arts Academy provides a huge dose of seasonal spirit in the guise of Don Toner and Ellsworth Shave's script, with music by Allen Robertson. The production sips long draughts from the warm sweetness of a traditional holiday brew of Christmas revelers embracing the spirit of generosity and community -- in this case with scores of McCallum theatre students (and some of their darling younger siblings) sharing the stage with a host of Austin's best-known professional actors. Partake in the post-show victuals, proceeds from the sale of which benefit McCallum's arts programs. Glow in the good feelings stirred by Scrooge's realization that being a good, generous, people-minded soul pays dividends well beyond the miserly, monetary kind. And simply enjoy the familiar tale, simply told by a family of actors and their friends for their greater family of longtime admirers.

The adaptation, directed by Toner, moves quickly through the major plot points, with a few sidesteps for Robertson's original songs or choreographer Deirdre Strand's variety of dances meant to charm or invigorate. The dark blue, foggy glow of old London in the mid-1800s, in a set design also by Toner, provides a soothing backdrop rather than any grimy-city nastiness. And the frequent downstage parade of carolers keeps things bright and brisk and full of song.

Only a Scrooge would point out the production's wafer-thinness, the redundancies in the script, the too-quick transformation of the stage Scrooge from nasty curmudgeon to wide-eyed man-child, or many of the adults' performances that are mailed in like an over-abundance of late-posted Christmas cards. Concentrate instead on Barry Miller's irrepressible high spirits as the embodiment of good cheer Mr. Fezziwig; on darling, show-stealing youngsters Hope Merrill and Robin Storie as the dancing Clown and Teddy Bear; on Tom Parker's kindly Ebeneezer Scrooge as he gets into the spirit of his brighter, happier youth; on keyboardist/conductor Austin Haller and his groovy wee orchestra, which provides pleasant sounds; on Everett Skaggs' ghostly, yet oddly comical, apparition of the deceased Marley. And above all else, enjoy the abundant goodwill of the entire company, from youngest to least-young, in this fond retelling of Dickens' classic.

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A Christmas Carol, Austin Playhouse, McCallum Fine Arts Academy, Don Toner, Ellsworth Shave, Allen Robertson, Deirdre Strand, Barry Miller, Hope Merrill, Robin Storie, Tom Parker, Austin Haller, Everett Skaggs

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