‘A Christmas Carol’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia by Amanda Gunther

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Bah! Humbug! The classic Christmas line echoed through the years by the notorious and original Grinch of Christmas; the timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge brought brilliantly to life with music, wonder and amazement and particularly fantastical special effects all coming to you this holiday season at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia with their production of the musical version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – with music by Alan Menken, (Beauty and the Beast) lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime), and book by Mike Ockrent (Director of Crazy for You) and Lynn Ahrens.

The Ghosts of Xmas- (l to r) Ghost of Christmas Past (Heather Beck) Ghost of Christmas Present (Ray Hatch) and Ghost of Christmas Future (Julia Lancione). Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but the miserly old man missed the memo. A tight-fisted bitter Christmas-loathing crank – the story you know all too well, about how the three ghosts of Christmas paid him a visit that night, and the rest, I’ll let Dickens tell. But there’s only one place to see it this holiday season, and without further ado I’ll give you every good reason.

Director David James inspires fresh new insights to the most produced show during the Christmas season. With outrageously impressive new technological special effects, tap-dancing routines, and a sensational cast, James squeezes every ounce of live festivity into the performance creating a truly merry Christmas experience for all. James manages to keep the production classic without being hackneyed and dull, and he succeeds in keeping smiles on the audiences faces, even during the scary bits. With a cast that rings perfection in all of their roles, James spearheads the epitome of what Dickens’s A Christmas Carol should be upon the stage during the holiday season.

Projection Design Artist Dave Bittner takes Dickens’s tale to a level of production that you would expect to see coming straight out of Disney World. With clocks that melt into ghostly projections, and projections that melt straight into reality, Bittner is bringing a whole new take of lively surprises to this show. Keep your eye out for all the projected portraits, dancing tombstones, and the streets of London town as Scrooge literally flies right up over top of them!

– Scrooge (center- David Bosley-Reynolds) with the ghastly ghosts of Christmas. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Choreographer Laurie Newton works with James to incorporate uniquely complex routines for the performers that keep the audience cheering and the action on stage enthralling. During “Link By Link” the ghosts of Christmas come swooping out of the chimney floo and shamble their way into a series of perfectly synchronized kick-lines and shuffles, creating for one spooky delight during this number. Newtown’s work is again highlighted when The Ghost of Christmas Present brings with him presents in the form of shiny tap-dancing girls, mingling with the servants in wigs during this up-beat fun routine played out during the lengthy musical number “Abundance and Charity.”

The costumes are breathtaking. Costume Designer Lawrence B. Munsey showcases an array of spirited outfits, many perfect for Dickens’s era London, others filled with whimsy and accented with festive colors, while others still are macabre and moldering; you simply have to see the show to see them all! But Munsey’s two most successful designs appear as memories in the past. The gorgeous blue glitter gown adorned to The Ghost of Christmas Past can only be outdone by the enormous snowflake-like silver crown upon her head. This rivals the multi-layered white lace Cinderella-style dress befitted to Scrooge’s only love, Emily (Elena Crall). Both are visually stunning and set the world apart from the more drab tones that appear in the ghost scenes.

A powerful ensemble, led by Musical Director Pamela Wilt, ensures that the audience feels the joys of Christmas, particularly in numbers such as “Jolly Good Time” and “Christmas Together.” This sentiment is further heightened during “Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball” featuring Mr. Fezziwig (Jeffrey Shankle) and Mrs. Fezziwig (Crystal Freeman) who delight in sharing their merriment with all present, leading the ensemble in a jovial party that includes singing, dancing, and some incredible acrobatic movements from a pair of party-goers (Scean Flowers and Ian Brown-Gorrell). Shankle and Freeman have elation in their voices, perfect for leading such a party.

An equally cheerful though much more subdued voice is found in Tiny Tim (TJ Langston). His angelic voice rings out the true meaning of Christmas spirit when he sings “You Mean More To Me” a heartfelt duet with his father Bob Cratchit (David James). Langston and James share a very realistic father son bond, and echo similar sentiments when they sing “Christmas Together” during the second act.

David Bosley-Reynolds as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Dickens’s story, while all about finding true happiness among friends and kin at Christmas, the giving and sharing of the joy in one’s heart, is also a ghost story. And these ghosts are some of the most talented ghosts you will see this Christmas. Showcasing her silently expressive side is Julia Lancione in the role of The Ghost of Christmas Future. While she does get to sing a bit with her beautiful voice during the “Streets of London” number, her role in the second act is silent. Her body language and ballerina dance moves showcase a world of haunting sorrow of things that are to come if Scrooge does not change his ways. Lancione’s body works as a clear cut vessel to display the horrors that await him at the end, never missing a beat in her precisely composed routine.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Ray Hatch) is a boisterous soul bringing gaiety and glee with his sudden arrival in Scrooge’s bed chamber. Hatch leads the ensemble in one of the brightest and frolicsome numbers in the show “Abundance and Charity.” Decked out like a king of Christmas, Hatch shares his good tidings of great joy with everyone in ear’s reach.

Looking more like a snow queen than anything that could come from the past, The Ghost of Christmas Past (Heather Beck) arrives on the scene with a glistening crown that matches the twinkle in her voice. Beck’s voice rings like a choir of angels during “The Lights of Long Ago” and her cheerful disposition guides Scrooge through to the past, shining like a beacon of light into his darkened and forgotten memories. Beck wafts about the stage in her gossamer gown, floating rather than walking, appearing as airy-fairy as the notion of the character itself. And while her jollity and lightheartedness is brilliant, it is also tempered with a heavy sorrow featured in “Remember.” Beck takes the gold as the leader of the ghosts, playing second fiddle only to the terrible spook that starts the whole thing off.

Said spoke is none other than the tremendously talented Andrew Horn in the notorious role of Jacob Marley. With a passionate voice that is powerfully sinister, Horn stakes his claim in “Link By Link” nailing this number with a horrific sense of doom. His powerful pipes leave you shaking down in your boots when he appears, forcing Scrooge to believe in him, and his presence on stage is nothing short of commanding and epic. Horn works the song to his advantage, maximizing his spookiness and haunting message of warning. Joined by a band of unearthly beings this production gets Night of the Living Dead going with a Christmas twist right in Scrooge’s sitting room.

Ebenezer Scrooge (David Bosley-Reynolds). Words cannot thoroughly express the justice that Reynolds does for the character. He deeply embodies a rich sense of bitterness, carrying the disgruntled weight of the frigid man in his gait, his posture, and his facial expressions. His voice is superb in everything he sings, particularly during “Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Today” when the weight of his soul lifts through his voice and out to the audience with the charge of change behind it. His comical facial expressions during “Abundance and Charity” show a softer side of Scrooge, the progression of a man about to be transformed.  Reynolds brings a raw humanity to the character, becoming fully enlightened and a truly changed man by the end of the production; his transformation from humbugging miser to a joyful man is thoroughly moving and nearly brought me to tears. A more perfect Scrooge you will not find anywhere else this holiday season.

Running Time: Approximately Two hours with one intermission.

A Christmas Carol plays through December 29, 2012 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia – 5900 Symphony Woods Road, in Columbia, MD. For reservations and tickets, call the box office at (410) 730-8311, or purchase them online.

[Editor’s Note: This is my favorite holiday production. When it played at the Paramount Theatre at Madison Square Garden in NYC from 1994-2003, I made a trip with a friend every year to see it. The show has a gorgeous score and is quite moving. I hope you will make time to bring your family to Toby’s to see it.]

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.