Monday, December 15, 2003

She Sang

"A Christmas Carol" is over, and it went great! I am going to repost the review that Larry sent out to the group messageboard. In all, Jack remembered his costume adjustments every time but once. He was in three scenes, and I was in two. The market scene went well for us all but two nights when Christmas present stepped on my dress, but that's okay it's (the dress) a huge thing! Not to mention there just wasn't a lot of room in front of the curtain. We had lots of fun doing this one. We got to spend time with a number of people from "Aurora," and we met lots of new people who have been in the RTG before us as well.

Last night, after the show, we broke down all the sets and put things away. The kids got to have a little pizza party and go crazy dancing on the stage. Some of the kids had fun chasing me around the theater until another mom-type said to quit. Oops. ;-) Now that it is all over, we are ready for another one even though we were moaning about all the driving and late nights along the way. It really is so much fun.

Larry's review:
Review: Charles Dickens' Classic Tale Retold

In 1843 Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" to describe the disparity of life in Victorian England. He addressed social issues of hardship, injustice, and unrest between the working class and lower class. He showed that in spite of overwhelming poverty good will toward one's fellow man can survive, as well as faith, love, and humanity; and, that no amount of money can buy happiness or character, as Ebenezer Scrooge was about to find out.

As for the play, it's hard to present as a stage play a tale so well known to the Western World where so many have read the book and have seen the many movie adaptations.

However, director Michael Clay Nelson hit upon the right formula for his own adaptation written expressly for the Rantoul Theatre Group. Mr. Nelson reasoned that by furnishing scenes with as much representative furniture of the period and having multiple scene changes he could vividly make the scenes appear true to life. This is a monumental tasking for an 800 square foot stage to display.

Additionally, by selecting a large cast with different players to appear in even the smallest of roles, he could keep from overusing actors, thus reserving his principal players to the key characters excepted to be seen by the audience while appearing in their characteristic costumes.

Nelson carefully selected 22 distinct scenes from this Christmas classic which in essence tells the whole story. He and his crew constructed from scratch enough furniture and set backgrounds to make it all seem like a movie set. Three different fireplaces had to be constructed as well as Scrooge's office furniture and his bedroom with the well-known four-poster bed.

The movies show the Spirit of Jacob Marley coming through a closed door into Scrooge's bedroom. A workable Victorian door and frame was constructed so that Marley, bound in chains, and played with uncommon skill and agony by Jonathan Daniels, could make the bolt appear to open itself as the audience looked at Scrooge in amazement as the ghastly spirit of Marley entered the bedroom glowing under black light as he proclaimed Scrooge's only remaining hope for salvation.

When the Ghost of Christmas Past, played by Janice Moore, arrives in Scrooge's bedroom, Nelson bathed the spirit with intense light to make her white costume glow with extreme brightness blinding the eyes of Scrooge. As everyone knows, she takes him back in time to see himself as young Ebenezer, played by young Jack, at the boarding school who then transforms into Teen Scrooge, played by Jacob Porter. Relying on teenage actors, Nelson matches Anne Moore as Scrooge's intended, Belle, as they solo dance to the high kicking Riverdance at the Fezziwegg Christmas party where 23 adults and children make merry dancing.

The poor home of Bob Cratchit family, with James Hatchel, Tracy Cooper-Nelson, Tiny Tim and his five brothers and sisters, was created on a split stage complete with kitchen table and 8 chairs and working entrance door. Nelson directed the Cratchit children to sing a ditty and dance around the table to celebrate their meager supper meal of a "goose" and real mashed potatoes. A fresh baked chicken each night substituted for the goose and the children actually ate it while making supper small talk as Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present (Larry Smith) looked in on the poor family which survives on the meager pay of "15 bob a week" which is only 10% of what clerks usually made in England at that time. Tiny Tim, portrayed by young Kenny Miller, took to the part by realistically using his wooden crutch pole and relying on his siblings to help him move around the set.

On the other half of the stage, alternately in darkness, Scrooge's nephew Fred Haliwell, played with a distinct English air by Steve Fogle, and his wife Julia Haliwell, played by Venus Fuller, have a lively and merry game of "Similes" with their party guests while the Spirit and Scrooge are unheard and unseen onlookers.

A sympathetic scene involved the skillfully applied makeup for the sad and emaciated faces of Blake Quinlan as "Ignorance" and Katie Ely alternating with Jennah Hogan as "Want" as they hid under the impressive embossed green velvet robe of the almost 7 foot tall Ghost of Christmas Present.

One of the most dramatic moments came when Joe Porter as Ebenezer Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Future Yet to Come in the graveyard scene. Todd Issacs was hidden behind an eerie and full skull mask and hands-of-bones gloves while cloaked in a black cape and hood. Not speaking, true to the story, he points to the events as he bewilders Scrooge with his ominous predictions of the future events which may or may not happen depending upon the course that Scrooge will select. With tombstones, smoke, lightning sounds, and strobe lighting, director Nelson created a realistic setting. Joe Porter gives a moving portrayal as he sees his own name bathed in eerie orange light on the tombstone and breaks down before the audience with real tears flowing from his eyes as he realizes that his life was all for naught unless he shows compassion for his fellow man.

Another standout scene is when Old Joe the pawnbroker, played in Bowler hat by Curt Moore, and Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge's housekeeper played by Karon Seib, both bring believability to the story utilizing well delivered English accents as they bicker on how much money Scrooge's bed curtains, watch, and other death bed effects will bring as an infuriated Scrooge looks on and threatens to bring them before a Magistrate.

Never done in movies before, Joe Porter wrote and delivered an eloquent, yet poignant, summation of the entire philosophy of the play while he holds a one way discourse with the Ghost of Christmas Future during one of the final transitional scenes.

As Ebenezer Scrooge awakens in his bed on Christmas morning he realizes that he has been reclaimed and is willing to become the new man who can love others and receive love and joy from others. Scrooge hysterically reenacts the game of "Similes" and proclaims that he is "as light as an angel" with the burden of his doom lifted from his shoulders.

Over 60 cast members contributed to this unique and well directed production. The making of most costumes was skillfully designed by the costume crew of Karon Seib, Rochelle Weber, Shawn Porter, Sharon Maulding-Hale, and Janice Moore and was an essential part of the authenticity of the play. Men's traditional top hats, tie/scarfs, waistcoat jackets made the men seem to jump right out of the story book. Ladies were specially outfitted with bonnets and wide skirted dresses. The Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company helped with some of the costumes. Ashleigh Nelson supervised the makeup designs to make the characters faces reflect either happiness or sorrow.

The most difficult tasking other than acting was handled aptly by the back stage crew of Jeff Ogle, Curt Moore, Derrick Fuller, and Shawn Porter. Their job was to quickly move on stage the numerous pieces of heavy furniture while director Nelson used a technique of conducting transitional scenes to keep the acting on going in front of the closed theatre curtain while the stage crew moved pieces into place behind the curtain. Each actor coming on stage for the next scene had to carry on a piece of furniture and remove it when their scene ended. This became a monumental job requiring some set pieces to be rebuilt or redesigned during rehearsals so that weight could be reduced without sacrificing the functionality of the set piece. Scenes such as Scrooge's office had to be set up taken down twice and the Cratchit's household had to be brought on and off stage three times.

Helping to entertain the audience with song during transitions, street carolers were employed to sing well-known Christmas carols of that era. The singing talents of Janice Moore, Kristy Shreves, Anne Moore, Stacey Moore, and Rochelle Weber served to first be rejected by Scrooge as "humbug" and later praised and rewarded with coin by a redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge.

Such is the pivotal tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's enlightenment that director Nelson brought to his script as he directed his full cast, child and adult, to contribute to the reclamation of the soul of Ebenezer Scrooge.

As the two hour play closes, the narrator relates that Ebenezer Scrooge became known as the "man who knew how to keep Christmas well." In the end, Scrooge embraces a recovered Tiny Tim who blesses the audience with that well-known phrase, "And God bless us all, everyone."

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