By Barry Reszel
Douglas Post is Citadel Theatre’s latest triple threat. But not by the typical musical theatre definition.
Instead, Post is the writer of book, music and lyrics for Scrooge and the Ghostly Spirits, this year’s holiday production of the small Equity company in Lake Forest. And the significant take-away from this quickly paced, one act version of Charles Dickens‘ A Christmas Carol is that the timeless tale is just as poignant when digested in short form with music. (For readers of this site, likely a lot more enjoyable, too. Those in need of a plot refresher may read it here.)
If this reviewer isn’t mistaken, it just might offer a twinge of hopeful redemption for the country’s 45th president, too. That, or an acknowledgement that unlike Scrooge, he may be too far gone.
This retelling maintains a strong focus on the remembrance that Ebenezer Scrooge’s business mentor believed that “Mankind Was My Business,” a song reprised by the title character during his too frenetic Christmas Day of redemption. It’s not completely clear through his visits with ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future why, as a child, Scrooge was fearful of his home or what caused him to abandon his mentor’s central message for a life of miserly misery. But when he peeks in on his nephew and wife openly mocking Scrooge’s contemptible existence, it’s hard not to hope for a real-life repeat of this event during this holiday season at Mar-a-Lago. Imagine Donald Trump peering in on his grandchildren, only to hear them ask their parents, “Why is Grandad so hateful?”
Whether or not that’s just wishful thinking, Post’s new musical is enjoying its world premiere at Citadel, and Director Scott Phelps is doing the material full justice, with a large cast, quickly- paced, condensed Dickens of a tale.
Frank Farrell as a wonderfully believable crank in the title character. The piece’s attention to the bleak during the opening scenes, along with Farrell’s strong acting, may make Scrooge’s ultimate redemption seem too abrupt or complete. Then again, when you’ve seen a ghost, much less three in one evening, who can really say? But the show’s star is perfectly cast. He’s well-supported by a large group of mostly young actors who are particularly notable as a strong vocal ensemble. They also execute Ann Delany‘s tight choreography on a small stage that’s transformed to numerous venues Victorian London through Kristen Martino‘s functional design, expertly lit by Diane D. Fairchild.
The ghost of deceased Scrooge business partner Jacob Marley provides the male vocal solo highlight of the piece, the gorgeously sung and exceptionally memorable “Mankind Was My Business,” by Erik Dohner. Monica Szaflik as Mrs. Cratchit, lamenting Tiny Tim’s death with “The Sun Will Rise,” is the standout female solo. Other notable performances are delivered by Catherine Athenson as the tender Ghost of Christmas Past who sings the haunting “Walk With Me” and Rebecca Keeshin, effective as the almost annoyingly festive Ghost of Christmas Present. Her costume depicting the character as a Christmas present personified is just one of the many terrific touches from Costume Designer Paul Kim.
Music Director Benjamin Nichols (keyboards) and the other two members of his impeccable onstage trio (Lena Gaetz on violin and Jessica Bieniarz on cello) do a great job with Post’s score, and there’s no doubt that the upbeat ensemble song and dance numbers like “Festivities at Fezziwigs,” “Cornucopia” and “On Christmas Day” are highlights.
That said, it’s not clear whether the songbook is memorable enough overall to turn Post’s new work into a company’s annually awaited production, a la The Christmas Schooner at The Mercury, written by Chicagoan John Reeger with music and lyrics by Julie Shannon. Certainly this cast at the Citadel Theatre gives it a terrific inaugural staging, putting Scrooge and the Ghostly Spirits among those titles to be considered for future November and December productions for many years to come.
Citadel Theatre presents “Scrooge and the Ghostly Spirits” through December 23 at 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by North Shore Camera Club.