Good Humbug from Wayne State at Bonstelle
DETROIT, Mich. — There’s nothing like A Christmas Carol to get you in the holiday spirit by reminding theater-goers of the innumerable rewards of repentance and generosity.
Wayne State University’s Hilberry, Bonstelle, and Allesee Dance Companies come together on one stage for a captivating rendition. Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, it is adapted by director Tom Aulino, and John Wolf, professor and chair of WSU’s Maggie Allesee Dept. of Theatre and Dance.
It’s hard to believe the actors in this professional theater company are college students. Ernest Bentley, a second-year graduate student, gives an impeccable performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. His meanness and disdain for sentiment are palpable at the beginning of the play where he spares no one a “Bah! Humbug,” as is his heartfelt turnaround inspired by the visits of three spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present and Ghost of Christmas Future.
Kyle Mitchell Johnson, a third-year graduate student, shines as bullied-by-Scrooge-but-affable Bob Cratchit, father of the iconic Tiny Tim, played with the requisite sweetness by Easton Bynum. The nine “emerging young artists” in the play are from the Motor City Youth Theatre. All are suitably adorable, even though their lines are few.
Other standout actors are Mrs. Fezziwig, played in drag by Michael Vultaggio, a third-year undergraduate BFA student. His over-the-top gestures and dancing add pizzazz to the light moments that contrast Londoners filled with holiday spirit with crotchety Scrooge. The same goes for the two “solicitors,” Charity 1 and Charity 2, played by Nick Stockwell and Brandon A. Wright, both second-year graduate students. Wright in particular garnered several hearty laughs for his expressive reactions to the transformed Scrooge near the end of the play. Mr. Fezziwig (Michael Phillip Thomas), Scrooge’s employer during his young adult years, is also an over-the-top character. A scene featuring dancing during a Christmas party hosted by the Fezziwigs features, wonderfully choreographed by Brandon Koepseli, takes full advantage of the small amount of open stage in front of the elaborate set.
Hugest of props to Fred Florkowski, scene designer, who put together a truly remarkable stage. Designed like a Lazy Susan, the middle section of the two-story set rotates to alternate between Scrooge’s office and apartment. The first view of the office is of an exterior, but the wall folds out to reveal the interior. The attention to detail is splendid throughout.
Guest artists include Benjamin Moore (music director) and Beth Lake (sound designer). The music and singing, including by the children, is top-notch throughout. The full-company singing of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is a warm and wonderful way to end the performance. Sound plays an important role in the haunting of Scrooge, when his bitter and cynical words come back to haunt him – literally.
Projection designer Sarah Pearline creates lighting that replicates gently falling snowflakes and driving, blustery snow cast upon the buildings and actors. A giant door knocker on which the face of Scrooge’s former partner Marley is projected also is nicely executed.
The show runs about just under two hours with one intermission. It goes by quickly, especially the second act with its familiar joyous climax. Dickens’ story might not be a cliffhanger, but the sentiment expressed never gets old.