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12.23.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Jana Marcus
POWER OF PERSUASION: Scrooge (Joseph Ribeiro) gets an earful from the Ghost of Christmas Present (Benjamin Holck).

Spirited Performance

Musical 'Scrooge' is a nostalgic holiday treat

By Traci Hukill


FROM THE first bars of the Christmas medley that opens Scrooge, the audience understands that it's in for one plum pudding of a theatrical experience. The chorus members, swathed in bonnets and frock coats straight out of a Dickens storybook, set about the cheerful business of caroling, converging in picturesque groups on the generous stage of the plush new Crocker Theater. Leslie Bricusse's score hews closely to the traditional melodies, at least here, and director Andrew Ceglio, a master of the witty grace note, trains his comic impulses toward wholesomeness in the opening pantomimes. This adaptation of A Christmas Carol, we are given to understand, will not be sly or ironic but warm-hearted and nostalgic.

But not boring, for into this bayberry-candle-scented scene steps Joseph Ribeiro as Ebenezer Scrooge. I last saw Ribeiro in gorgeous, over-the-top drag as the evil stepmother in Shakespeare Santa Cruz's winter production of Cinderella; he was making off with the entire show, as I recall. Here he puts a lid on it, but his bitchy, fussy Scrooge glows with the alluring light of an inner wicked queen, and Ribeiro can't help but let the kitty out of the bag when a natural ally appears onstage in the form of the Ghost of Christmas Present, played flamboyantly in platform soles and luxe fur-trimmed robe by Benjamin Holck. These two light up the stage when they're together, and the opening night audience loved it.

The crowd also loved the ghost of Jacob Marley, played with expert physicality by Michael Stark. His appearance on the scene is really frightening—chained and groaning, he emerges from the depths amid an exhalation of fog and sickly light, a reminder that Dickens' world was only half chipper carolers; the rest involved a lot of disease and damnation. Trap doors are used to good effect throughout the play, notably in the Nutcracker-like toy scene, which featured the great choreography we've come to expect from Trevor Little and incredible athleticism by the harlequin dancer (although it might be time to retire the Chinese toy shtick, which was a little too retro). While we're on the subject of dance, a tidy piece of good physical comedy came courtesy of Robin DiCello as an inebriated Mrs. Fezziwig.

Skip Epperson's set, as usual, is a spare, elegant affair, and further proof that this talented designer more than deserves the distinction of a Rydell fellowship (models of his sets are currently on display at the Museum of Art and History downtown). This one relies on simple furnishings—a bed and closet, a window and door—that descend from the theater's ceiling on complex riggings (one of this new theater's Cadillac features) to demarcate home and office. A great illuminated clock glows in the background throughout the play, reminding us that Scrooge's time to redeem himself is running short.

Musically strong overall, Scrooge enjoyed some standouts. Ariel Buck as Mrs. Cratchit and the Ghost of Christmas Past was pitch-perfect, a rock of reliability; this strong singer just gets better all the time. The petite Morgen Cree turned in a fine and very popular performance as Tiny Tim. Her clear, sweet soprano was unexpectedly strong and even possessed a moderate vibrato, almost unheard of in an 8-year-old. The ensemble chorus did best in the spirited numbers, like the rousing "Thank You Very Much" and "The Minister's Cat." Less successful was the adagio a cappella number that opened the second act, which suffered from clashing intonation. Unfortunately, some technical glitches with the headsets also bedeviled the show, as the strength of the signals waxed and waned depending on the actors' positions onstage, detracting from an otherwise charming and entertaining production. Otherwise, Scrooge delivers an uplifting message, some familiar tunes and a few belly laughs—exactly what you want in a holiday musical.


SCROOGE runs through Jan. 3 at the Cabrillo Crocker Theater, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos. Tickets are $17–$34, with $15 back row seats and $10 rush seats, available at 831.479.6154 or www.cabrillostage.com.


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