Encore Michigan

“Scrooge” is redeemed in Marine City at Riverbank

Review December 04, 2016 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, Mich. – Oh, what would Christmas be without a little Ebenezer Scrooge? Heard the story, seen the movie, etc. But there’s just something so compelling about a man whose heart can be changed in just one night. The magic happens over and over, every year, and it happens again at The Riverbank Theatre in Marine City. The Riverbank is a modestly sized theatre in a small town, but it manages to fill its stage with an energetic, talented and experienced cast, directed by Aaron Dennis Smith, that brings Charles Dickens’ story of A Christmas Carol (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens) to life once again in musical fashion.

Comcast/Xfinity is a proud sponsor of EncoreMichigan and of professional theatre throughout Michigan.

Comcast/Xfinity is a proud sponsor of EncoreMichigan and of professional theatre throughout Michigan.

Scrooge is the literary character we love to hate, whose moniker has become a nickname for the cranky and irascible. Scrooge is so cold-hearted that he denies charity to the poor, urging them to simply go to the poor house, or—better yet—die and reduce the surplus population. Scrooge is so miserly that he won’t pay to heat his own home.

Scrooge’s deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, who was equally cold-hearted and miserly in life, visits Scrooge from the grave on Christmas Eve because he knows that Scrooge did care for others once: for his parents, his sister, his former fiancée. Marley also knows what the consequences will be for Scrooge if he does not change his ways.

So, Scrooge becomes an unwilling participant in his own “intervention,” which is perpetrated by spirits both friendly and unfriendly. And the spirits know exactly which of Scrooge’s buttons to push. The realization that love and compassion can prevail even in the absence of wealth, and the more frightening realization that selfish and uncaring actions yield very unpleasant consequences, are enough to warm Scrooge’s heart and make him into a completely new man overnight, to the surprise and delight of everyone who knows him.

The role of Scrooge is not an easy one to fill; it is essentially like playing two different characters. And in the case of this show, there are musical numbers and dialogue that is sung as well. Tony Amato as Ebenezer Scrooge easily and delightfully pulls this off. From the first moment he appears, his look and his demeanor require no suspension of disbelief. He sings with a voice that is strong and steady, and at times gruff, terrified and ultimately overjoyed; and his physical acting wraps it all up into a package that genuinely embodies Scrooge.

All these qualities come together in the number “Link By Link,” during which Scrooge is haunted not only by Marley (Dan Wolking), but by a bevy of dancing ghosts, each displaying the manner of his death. Scrooge progresses from disbelief to terror to denial before they leave his bedchamber.

Another delight of the production is Diana Tuner as the Ghost of Christmas Past. She appears in a swirl of white and silver to perform one of the musical highlights of the show, “The Lights of Long Ago,” with a voice that is lyrical and sweet. She delivers each note with confidence and each word with precision.

The entire ensemble puts forth another exciting number with “Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball” to put everyone in the Christmas (and dancing) mood. The adorable children’s cast is featured in numbers like “Abundance and Charity.” And the simple carol “God Bless Us, Everyone” delivers a heartwarming message in a fitting finale.

A Christmas Carol features a large supporting cast, and all members deliver strong vocal performances. The set for this production is minimal, utilizing only a few physical furniture pieces when necessary. Though Scrooge himself is a minimalist, the rest of Victorian England is not, and the lack of a more traditionally built set seems an odd choice for this story. In place of a physical set is the use of video technology on the large rear screen, which serves as backdrop for indoor and outdoor scenes, as well as creative effects like flying through the air.

The story of A Christmas Carol is a timeless classic, of course, but the musical setting makes it especially fun for young viewers. What audiences will most enjoy in this production are the performances of a talented and well-directed cast, melodies that linger, and a joyful feeling that warms the holiday spirit.

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