Encore Michigan

“Scrooge” sees the spirits that change him up North in Traverse City

Review December 04, 2016 Marin Heinritz

TRAVERSE CITY–If there is a Christmas tale more beloved than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, it certainly hasn’t been adapted as widely or frequently as the 173-year-old Victorian novella.

Whether a cartoon, opera, film, or musical, the story is so very adaptable because it’s a timeless story of redemption: the miserly old Scrooge is granted the opportunity to see his past, present, and future from a perspective outside his own meanness and narrow self interests, which inspires him to put a little love in his heart.

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.

What’s new about this production isn’t flashy or terribly experimental. Instead, Director Kit McKay strips it down, and frames the show as if it were being told at an intimate holiday party around a cozy fire—at any
time, anywhere. With minimal set, lights and sound that traverse contemporary and traditional stylings, with a handful of classically-trained actors in the majestic 125-year-old City Opera House decked out for a proper Christmas party, she ultimately invites the audience to co-create each performance.

There is essentially no fourth wall in this show, and therefore the line between audience and performer is very fine, indeed. At times, the actors speak directly to the audience; they sit in the audience; they hand out candy gold coins to the audience members. From the very start of the show, the audience participates in the creation of the show; they ring handbells and come onto the stage to dance, sing, and speak in various improvisational roles.

The technical elements are minimal, and call little attention to themselves, inviting the audience deeper into the narrative. Matt McCormick’s set is comprised of two raised platforms upstage and two downstage trunks that the actors effectively use to create the action and changing interior and exterior scenes, from homes and offices to a graveyard to flying high above the city streets, past, present, and yet-to-come. And the entire theater is fair game—scenes shift into the aisles and up onto the balcony as well as box seats.

Brian Elston’s lights shift from house lights up to progressive darkness as the theme and mood requires, and work beautifully with Magic Designer (and script writer/adapter) Ben Whiting’s sleight-of-hand tricks such as gold coins appearing on a platter and ghosts growing and disappearing beneath shimmering cloths. Simple yet dazzling.

The only actor who plays a singular role is William Church, who creates a complex Ebeneezer Scrooge. He shifts from an ornery and stern bud that blossoms into a wide open flower. Church completely eschews cliché and shows convincing and profound change in energy and physicality. The effect is utterly joyful.

The company is a true ensemble, with the five remaining actors playing many parts (upwards of 18 for some) with minimal costume changes (thanks to Mica M. Harrison’s inventive use of various head pieces, cloaks, and other period accessories and accoutrements). At times, hats go flying through the air—a toss of the hat signifying a transition, all of which are seamless. The five actors are exceptional performers, playing across vast ranges of age, sex, and class (not to mention the spirit world) using little more than their voices and bodies, playfully employing various accents and pitch. It is a delight to watch them play and effortlessly involve the audience with extraordinary skill.

The brilliance of Parallel 45’s concept and creation is that by focusing on the heart of this story and storytelling itself, they succeed in making the consummate Christmas tale feel new again. The real magic here is that even the greatest Scrooges among us can’t help but leave the theatre purified of all humbuggery—perhaps even singing along to Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World. For it is not just the Scrooge on stage who is transformed; it is we who undergo the transformation with him.

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