“A Christmas Carol” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ December 13, 2010


Actors Theatre, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

As I entered the Herberger Theater Center for Actors Theatre’s annual “A Christmas Carol” I was sad.  This would be the production’s 19th year but it was the last.  It will be retired after this year’s run.  The sadness had nothing to do with the vibrant production on stage.  It’s sad to see this best of the local holiday attractions end its run.  It won’t be the same next year, when this holiday favorite isn’t around.

This year’s “A Christmas Carol” is identical to the last several years after initial seasons of fine-tuning and changes that made this staging so wonderfully festive.  There are a few new cast members but most of the actors are like a Christmas family.  They play the same roles each season but their rich and expressive depictions of the Charles Dickens characters are polished to a shimmery perfection.

Heading the large ensemble is Kim Bennett’s spot perfect Ebenezer Scrooge.  He starts rough and gruff, as Scrooge must, but after the magical and vividly staged dream sequences open his mind to Christmas, Bennett softens and humbles into a lovable and irascible curmudgeon who uses his bah-humbugging countenance to have a wild time with the characters.

Years ago, Matthew Wiener, Actors Theatre’s producing artistic director, adapted the popular story with playwright Michael Grady, into the joyful holiday inspired production.  Alan Ruch contributed a lush score that incorporates popular Christmas carols in masterful arrangements with wonderful new tunes.  Michael Barnard created high stepping and spirited dances.  Fast moving scenery, luxuriant period costumes, evocative lighting, and clever special effects enhance this stellar adaptation.

Wiener directs the breezy and action-packed production exuberantly and the superb actors create the many rich characters.  The ensemble makes every scene alive with color, great singing, and exuberant dancing.

This season’s biggest change is David Barker’s more sinister Christmas Present because D. Scott Withers is having a big triumph at Phoenix Theatre playing Edna in “Hairspray.”  The huge cast is too massive to name all the outstanding players but there’s not a dud in this able group.  Even the young actors are polished pros.

This production always brings tears of joy, hope that the future will get better, and trust that past hardships will be corrected.  What started 19 seasons ago as an unusually dark and foreboding telling of the familiar story has been transformed, like Scrooge, into a festive and marvelously endearing tale of holiday delight.

“A Christmas Carol” continues through December 24.  If you’ve seen it before, visit it one last time and if you’ve never seen it you must get to the Herberger Theater Center before it closes for good.  For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497 or buy online at www.actorstheatrephx.org.

Grade: A