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A CurtainUp Review
A Gilbert & Sullivan Christmas Carol
The years went by
And all too soon
You became the very model
of a rich tycoon

--- the Ghost of Christmas past
Barry Kaplan as Scrooge (Photo: James McNicholas)
The first New York staging of Gayden Wren's happily compatible marriage of the style and music of Gilbert & Sullivan with Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" was the third intimate musical I saw this week. Compared to the Jose Quintero Theatre, the York Theatre and the Melting Pot Theatre where Roadside (CurtainUp review) and Tintypes (CurtainUp review) opened have spacious playing spaces. Yet, miniscule as the Jose Quintero stage is, A Gilbert & Sullivan Christmas Carol has the largest cast of the trio -- fifteen performers playing twenty-three characters.

The limited space in no way dampens the acting and singing. From Tiny Tim (Jonathan Demar) to Ebenezer Scrooge (Barry H. Kaplan) to the story's various ghosts everyone does honor to the inspirational sources. A wing chair and reading lamp at the edge of the stage, accommodates the narrator (Robert Charles Rhodes) and the orchestra, consisting of musical director Stephen O'Leary at the piano, is neatly positioned at the foot of the stage.

As the versatile adapter-lyricist-director Gayden Wren observes in the program notes, the show's title is technically a misnomer since neither Gilbert or Sullivan had anything to do with its composition. However, they and Dickens were contemporaries. Gilbert actually adapted Great Expectations as a play and Sullivan and Dickens talked about collaborating on a show. Since Dickens died before anything could come of this, Mr. Wren has done it for them. He approached his adaptation intent to do so as Gilbert and Sullivan might have done and without tinkering with the plot of Dickens' classic morality tale.

Mr. Wren has succeeded admirably. The story is all there and songs from a baker's dozen of Gilbert & Sullivan operas have been smoothly integrated. The lyrics are of the era, yet with a contemporary flavor.

The opening, which has a balladeer (Kenneth Finegan) coming on stage by way of the aisle, is a bit awkward and the completely cocoa colored set at first makes it difficult to distinguish the details of Scrooge's counting house. But as Scrooge and Bob Cratchit (Jonathan Baldwin) introduce themselves with amusing little ditties (Scrooge singing "My name's Scrooge, my income's huge" and Cratchit countering with "My name is Bob, I hate my job") the fun begins. By the time the scene changes to Ebenezer's bedroom (the energetic cast also moves an increasing variety of props) the Gilbert & Sullivan/Dickens connection clicks into full gear.

The ghosts are all splendidly attired by Joan Suggs, with Marley (Jim Luddy) in a white suit and weighed down by silver chains lustily singing "I am the very model of the Mystic Supernatural" accompanied by a chorus of ghosts in the background. The ghosts of Christmas past (Heather Thompson ), present (Jill Skivington) and future (Cecily Kate) all have fine voices. Cecily Kate who also plays Belle, the love of Ebenezer's youth, is especially strong. The men are equally impressive. Kaplan is a genial meanie. Jonathan Baldwin is a handsome and endearing Bob Cratchit. Young Jonathan Demar is an appealing Tiny Tim, but the standout of the kids in the cast is a perky eight-year-old, Hayley Chapple, who plays Cheapside Jackie as well as Peter Cratchit.

A Gilbert & Sullivan Christmas Carol has been staged in Philadelphia, Boston, Wilmington, San Diego, Long Island and internationally in Macedonia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Its New York visit is limited to weekends and scheduled to end before Christmas. It's a nifty little show in a fun for the whole family mood typical of its guiding spirits -- Gilbert & Sullivan and Dickens.

Written by
Book, lyrics, direction by Gayden Wren (inspired by W. S. Gilbert)
Based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Music by Arthur Sullivan
Musical Direction by Stephen O'Leary
Cast (alphabetical order): Jonathan Baldwin, Hayley Chapple, Jonathan Demar, Kenneth Finegan, Kenneth W. Gartman, Hannah Hammel, Scott Matthew Harris, Barry Kaplan, Cecily Kate, Jim Luddy, Kaia Monroe, Jermel Nakia, Robert Charles Rhodes, Jill Skivington and Heather Thompson.
Set and Lighting Design: Janette Kennedy.
Costumes coordinated by Sara Holliday
Ghost costume design: Joan Suggs
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
Jose Quintero Theatre, 534 W. 42nd St. (10th/11th Aves) 718/777-8486
11/30/01-12/16/01; opening 12/02/01
Fridas at 8pm, Saturadays at 3 and 8 pm and Sundays at 3pm -- $20
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based
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