Although Charles Dickens was not the first author to write a holiday story, his tale of Ebenezer Scrooge is often credited with helping to create the modern Christmas celebration.
The truth, however, is a little fuzzier.
Dickens was less an innovator than a benefactor of his times.
He self-published “A Christmas Carol” in December 1843, the same year holiday greeting cards were introduced and a mere two years after Queen Victoria ceded to Prince Albert’s request to adopt the German tradition of bringing a fir tree into the home and decorating it for the season.
So, Dickens did not invent modern Christmas, but he certainly gave it a jump start with his story.
Now, Titan Theatre Co., in a co-production with Queens Theatre, takes Dickens’ tale to another level with a glorious production running through Dec. 21.
Titan, known for its creatively edited scripts of Shakespeare’s plays, succeeds in cleaning up some of the clutter in “A Christmas Carol” — including Dickens’ overly long focus on young Ebenezer’s sorrowful and solitary life in school — without losing any of the powerful emotions that arise from Scrooge’s redemption at the final curtain.
Director Lenny Banovez, who adapted this version with Emily Trask, has assembled an eclectic group of actors — from elementary schoolchildren to Broadway performers — who gloriously bring Scrooge’s story to life.
The addition of classic Christmas carols, including some lesser-known gems like “Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella,” provide just the right touch of atmosphere whether they are sung as a way to transition between scenes or the focus of a smattering of dialogue by the other actors.
To anyone visiting from another planet, “A Christmas Carol” revolves around miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who worships the old mighty pound above all else, and his turnaround at the hands of four otherworldly visitors — the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future — along with the tortured soul of his former business partner Jacob Marley.
Audiences usually only see Marley, played here by Andy Baldeschwiler, as the first visitor who warns Scrooge to change his ways or risk ending up like him — doomed to walk the earth bounded in chains.
But here, Marley arrives at Mr. Fezziwig’s party during the Ghost of Christmas Past’s visit to offer young Scrooge some unsolicited financial advice.
“There is more to life than money,” young Scrooge, played by Dylan Wittrock says.
“Everyone says money doesn’t buy happiness,” Baldeschwiler’s Marley replies, “but it does make a down payment.”
Banovez and Trask provide plenty of humor throughout the usually dark and sober story.
Fezziwig and the Ghost of Christmas Present, here both are played by Michael Selkirk, usually provide some comic relief, but Selkirk succeeds in creating two distinct characters who celebrate a love of life and mankind. Fezziwig, who was Scrooge’s first boss, should have been a role model to the young businessman, but instead became for him a cautionary tale of what happens when you do not keep your eye on the bottom line.
As Mrs. Cratchit and the Ghost of Christmas Past, Titan regular Laura Frye steps into two smaller but important roles in Scrooge’s redemption.
But it is her turn as a licentious guest at Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s present day party that nearly allows her to walk away with the show.
You’re not sure if her singularly named Sally is simply drunk or controlled only by her libido, but after her booming and hysterical declaration that she adores pie, you may never look at dessert the same way again.
But in the end, the success of “A Christmas Carol” hangs on the actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge, and here, too, Titan’s production soars.
Broadway actor Kevin Loomis delivers a Scrooge, who is substantially bitter and even physically ugly at the start of the show.
But Loomis masterly shows us Scrooge’s slow transformation from miser to humanitarian.
Each ghostly visitor matter-of-factly points out Scrooge’s choices have propelled him to a lonely and unvisited grave.
Throughout this ordeal Loomis does not make one false step as he shows us how Scrooge finally realizes his love of money has cost him everything else in life.
So it is easy to believe that the man who asked whether the workhouses and prisons could not take care of the poor becomes a person who echoes Tiny Tim’s sentiment “God, bless us, everyone,” by the end.
If you Go
“A Christmas Carol”
When: Through Dec. 21
Where: Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Ave. South, Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Cost: $25 - $30
Contact: (718) 760-0064
Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimm
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