Perhaps it's the balmy temperatures or the lack of snow in Salt Lake City, but I'll readily admit to being in a bit of a Scrooge-y mood at the thought of watching a holiday musical when outside the theater, it's not even close to looking a lot like Christmas.
Pioneer Theatre Company's new production of A Christmas Carol: The Musical does all that an audience can hope for in generating some genuine holiday cheer. Its combination of nostalgia delivered by Charles Dickens' familiar story and flashy song-and-dance numbers required of audience-pleasing Broadway musicals makes for a fast-moving production, one pleasing to both Christmas Carol traditionalists and theater lovers who might prefer something a bit more offbeat.
A consistently excellent cast of actors, singers and dancers, along with creative visuals courtesy of Artistic Director Karen Azenberg, turned my own skepticism about seeing yet another adaptation of an old warhorse like A Christmas Carol into genuine interest in the activities on stage. Jamie Jackson as Ebenezer Scrooge was a strong focal point throughout, but secondary roles managed to make their mark in the show as well; I particularly enjoyed Robert Anthony Jones as Fezziwig, and Justin Ivie as the Ghost of Jacob Marley.
After the spartan staging of Pioneer's last show, Of Mice and Men, Azenberg made great use of all the benefits of doing a show at the Pioneer. The moving stage made for seamless transitions between scenes and time frame as Scrooge moves from office to home, and from the past to the future. Creative lighting helped the first appearance of Jacob Marley's ghost, on Scrooge's front door, come through as a truly scary haunting, and having the ghosts appear as zombies seemingly inspired by Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video was a good choice. The Victorian era was well represented in the wardrobe and props, and the sets sometimes had a woozy, off-kilter look that reminded me of some of Tim Burton's visual style.
Some of the overly sentimental aspects of Dickens' story were detriments to this version of his tale as well, slowing the show's momentum here and there, but the massive, sweeping production numbers were better than I expected, particularly "Nothing To Do With Me," which included a huge array of characters and changing sets during its duration, and the joyous "Mr. Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball."
For a holiday theater retreat for the whole family, A Christmas Carol: The Musical is a fine choice. If you're a regular Pioneer-goer, I'd say it lands somewhere between recent productions of White Christmas (which I enjoyed immensely) and the musical version of cult holiday flick A Christmas Story (which I found utterly disposable).
A Christmas Carol: The Musical runs at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre through December 15. Visit the theater's Website for showtimes, tickets and more info. (Photo by Alexander Weisman, courtesy of Pioneer Theatre Company)
Dan Nailen has written about music, arts and culture in and around Salt Lake City for Salt Lake magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City Weekly since 1998. He's currently a contributor to saltlakemagazine.com, and you can find more of his work at SLCene.com