Review: ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

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Ebenezer Scrooge would be a terror on Facebook. He’s just not your social media type of guy. Bahhumbug would be his Twitter log-on. And if he’s your boss, like poor Bob Cratchit, don’t even think about asking him for a livable wage this coming year.

A Christmas Carol is all about the profound soul journey undertaken by this Mr. Scrooge fellow one snowy Christmas Eve, from Queen Victoria’s dog-eat-dog London to a much warmer, safer place filled with charity and good will to all.

Yes, it’s a fantasy. And a ghost story about all the dead-end decisions we have make and those disturbing “shadows of things yet to be.”

At Toby’s Dinner Theatre now it’s also a musical by the prolific composer of The Little Mermaid and Little Shop of Horrors, Alan Menken. Audiences here are enjoying something of a mini-Menken festival, as this production follows on the heels of his Sister Act in the group-hug intimacy of Toby’s theater-in-the-round.

Menken provided some eighteen hummable new tunes for this hit 1994 stage adaptation of the Charles Dickens story, including my choice for new seasonal standard, “Christmas Together.”

The show was originally presented in New York by Radio City Entertainment, which knows a bit about lighting up the holidays. Lynn Ahrens did the lyrics and collaborated on the book with original director Mike Ockrent.

The first thing likely to strike you about the staging at Toby’s is the beauty of all the period costumes designed by Lawrence B. Munsey (yes, the same Larry Munsey who has done such wonderful work on stage at Toby’s over the years). The array of Victorian dresses and winter coats and top hats instantly pulls you into a storybook land where anything can happen.

David Bosely-Reynolds as Scrooge on Christmas Day. Photo by Jeri Tidwell.

Director David James has assembled a yeoman cast headed by the versatile David Bosely-Reynolds as Ebenezer Scrooge. With so much for us to see and hear as Scrooge cuts briskly through a wintery street crowded with carolers, hungry beggars and contribution-seekers, the show takes a bit of time to establish its focus.

As an actor, Bosley-Reynolds may be too basically lovable to project the arrogant, self-congratulatory closed-mindedness of a confirmed, go-it-alone miser. So what he gives us is heaps of “angry guy” grumbling and snapping at all those who dare cross his path. That makes him pretty much of an easy-mark for a “come to Jesus” moment, in this reviewer’s opinion.

Arguably the emotional heart of the show is little Tiny Tim, who hobbles out on a makeshift crutch and melts any resistance to entering into the spirit of Dickens’ tale. On press night, Tiny Tim was crowd-pleasingly played by newcomer Lucas Bromberg, who alternates in the role with Noah Graham.

The actors made up as ghosts to invade Ebenezer’s “safe place” and issue him dire warnings are wonderfully realized in this production. Andrew Horn as the chain-bedraggled Marley, Heather Beck as a sparkling Ghost of Christmas Past, Darren McDonnell as the compassionate Ghost of Christmas Present, and Mackenzie Newbury as a foreboding Ghost of Christmas Future are all performed with a consummate sense of fun that proves infectious to onlookers.

Others contributing heartily to the merriment factor are David James himself as the punchy and overwhelmed family provider, Bob Cratchit; Tina DeSimone as his optimistic wife; and the wonderfully animated Jeffrey Shankle as both Judge and Mr. Fezziwig.

“Abundance and Charity.” Photo by Jeri Tidwell.

A large supporting ensemble of regulars and newcomers also kicks up the entertainment value a notch or two. The chorus numbers are joyful and eye filling, especially that decaying zombie chain gang in the “Link By Link” number and those leggy, gold-spangled cuties in “Abundance and Charity.” They were fit for a Vegas floorshow, proving that Choreographer Laurie Newton can squeeze a few sweet licks out of the old holiday notion of sugarplum dancers.

Technical standards by Lighting Designer Coleen M. Foley surpass even the high bar set in previous Toby’s knock-out shows like Rent and The Addams Family.  Watch for animated tombstones dancing on the sidelines, and follow that animated clock face as it jumps from the wall to travel in a pool of light to center stage. Prepare yourself also for a veritable London fog of smoke effects and strobing lights as ghosts appear and vanish.

The live pit orchestra under the direction of Pamela Wilt on press night (she alternates with Doug Lawler) remains fully attuned to Menken’s colorful score. The singing, as always at Toby’s, is first-rate, given a uniform boost by Sound Designer Mark Smedley in what remains a challenging environment.

The cast of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo by Jeri Tidwell.

Every family must see at least one live production of A Christmas Carol at holiday time. For musical fans, this is the one to catch this year — and for many of the Toby faithful, it’s less than a sleigh ride away.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one 20-minute intermission.

A Christmas Carol plays through January 8, 2017, at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road, in Columbia, MD. Reservations are required at (301) 596-6161, (410) 730-8311, or 800-88TOBYS. For reservation and ticket information, go to their website, or purchase them on Ticketmaster.

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