Review: ‘A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play’ at Howard Community College’s Arts Collective

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We all could use a bit of good tidings during this winter of our discontent. Fortunately for Howard County theatergoers, this weekend is filled with holiday cheer with four productions of The Nutcracker and two shows based on Dickens’ classic tale of finding the true meaning of Christmas. John Harding reviewed the A Christmas Carol Musical at Toby’s Dinner Theater, so now it’s my turn to share the fun and frivolity of a behind-the-scenes radio rendition at Howard Community College.

The four Scrooges: Left to Right: Jim Hart, Gareth Kelly, Douglas Beatty, and Daniel Johnston. Photo by Emma K. McDonnell.

Last evening we were treated to A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play, a production by HCC’s Arts Collective, directed by smart, savvy S. G. Kramer. Smart because she gives her actors a script to read during the show, particularly in the first act, and savvy with her mixing up the parts these actors play. Dozens of performers (singers, musicians, kids and adults) bring these Dickens characters to the stage as the familiar tale unfolds.

Kramer used this method of scripts and changes in last year’s highly touted Love Loss and What I Wore by the late Nora Ephron. It’s a comfortable way for both performers and audience – if things get screwed up, a cue is in front of you. And with the constant changing of parts, the story remains fresh. There’s no chance you will see the same show twice!

This holiday chestnut relates Ebenezer Scrooge’s eerie encounters with a series of visitors – Christmas past, resent and future. Played by Douglas Beatty in the Friday evening show, Scrooge is ultimately transformed from a miserable miser to a caring human being, especially kind to Tiny Tim, the lovable Bennett Horvath in all performances. Sister Bella Horvath as the Good Little Girl charms Santa Claus (and the audience) with her description of the doll she wants for Christmas.

Other standouts include William Stanley III with Tara Hart in the comedic fruitcake commercial the radio broadcast. He also played Santa Claus and Old Joe with a profound voice that has become a signature.

The Ensemble: Doug Beatty, Kira Bennett, Janelle Broderick, Alison Buckley, Adam Czarnecki, Jim Hart, Tara Hart, Bella Horvath, Bennett Horvath, Steve Horvath, Chania Hudson, Daniel Johnston, Gareth Kelly, Valerie Lash, Kathryn Marshall, Apryl Motley, Colin Riley, Gavin Shown, Christopher Sisson, William Stanley III, Armani Veguilla, Sierra Young — and SFX Team//Vocalists featuring “Sonorous”: Brandon Furr, Warren Harris, Wesley LeRoux, and Mary Liberto. Photo by St. Johnn Blondell.

A special nod to Costume Designer Shannon Maddox and Assistant Costume Designer Daniel Johnston for their exquisite 1940’s costumes.

Arts Collective (AC) brings the familiar Dickens tale to life through a 1940’s radio broadcast in a set that deserves our “applause” (as the flashing yellow light reminds us). Andrew M. Haag, Jr. designed the lighting and Linwood Milan created the sound effects – loved the clanking of classes with perfect timing and the spooky noises, all provided by a cappella singers Brandon Furr, Warren Harris, Wesley LeRoux, and Mary Liberto.

The authentic set by Kramer and Emma K. McDonnell, reminds us of that other World War II musical, Annie. I kept expecting the Radio Play vocalists to break into “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” Instead they sang Christmas Carols. Kudos to pianist Keith Tittermary for keeping the singers on key and the audience humming along.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Arts Collective’s A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play end its run TODAY, Sunday, December 10, 2016, at 3 PM in Howard Community College’s Horowitz Center Studio Theatre – 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 518-1500, or purchase them online.

Audiences members who bring items for HCC’s Food Pantry will receive a tasty intermission treat.

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