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A Christmas Carol

The way Dickens wrote it

Joseph Grant (left) as Ebenezer Scrooge, and Alex Koerger as Jacob Marley. Photo credit: Tim Johnson

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A Christmas Carol as adapted by James Venturini for Lakewood Playhouse is probably as close to the way Charles Dickens himself would adapt it for the stage if he were alive today.

In his day, Dickens toured the world telling stories and reading from his books, so it is appropriate that he shows up as the narrator for this show in the person of actor W. Scott Pinkston who does a great job of playing the parts of both Dickens and Bob Cratchit. He wonderfully transitions between these two characters on stage in full view of the audience, not with an elaborate costume and makeup change but by simply taking off his hat and coat, hanging them up, putting a scarf around his neck, and undergoing a subtle but significant change of persona.

Unlike the popular musical version, this one is straight drama. But there is holiday music in the form of carolers who occasionally wander the streets of London.

I saw a preview performance, essentially the final tech rehearsal, two nights before opening night, and it was flawless. Artistic Director John Munn said there had been a 10-hour tech rehearsal of act one two days earlier and a seven-hour tech of act two the next night. That should give you an idea of how complicated and vital the lighting, sound and other technical aspects are to this production, and the evidence of how superbly they pull it off is seen when the ghost of Jacob Marley (Alex Koerger) first appears on stage. Koerger is a large man who looks even more imposing when seen next to Ebenezer Scrooge (Joseph Grant), who is a small man. He comes in draped in chains and bathed in a ghostly blue-white light, and his deep voice echoes as if coming out of a deep cave. Outstanding special effects make audiences believe in the unbelievable and accept what they see as real (suspension of disbelief) without questioning what kind of hard work and precision timing is going on backstage to create the magic. Combine that with great acting from Koerger and Grant, and we are whisked out of our seats and set down in an old man's haunted bed chamber.

Koerger, by-the-way, is not only an effective Marley, he also plays a delightful Fizziwig and Old Joe. As for Grant, I have seen him turn in outstanding performances in a lot of plays, and this one ranks right up there with his best. His acting chops show not only in the big gestures and expressions of horror and fear and remorse, but in his tiniest expressions of disdain for underlings and the holiday spirit.

Also turning in performances of special note is Callie Williams in the multiple roles of a solicitor, Mrs. Cratchit, a charwoman and others. She is funny and touching and larger than life, especially when playing Mrs. Cratchit. And her voice stands out beautifully among the carolers.

Gary Chambers, a memorable Riff-Raff in last year's The Rocky Horror Show and as Sir Henry Baskerville in the madcap The Hound of the Baskervilles, is a fun-to-watch Ghost of Christmas Present with his haughty but kind demeanor.

Director Alan Wilkie and his crew does a great job of herding a large cast in a theater-in-the-round space to present a ghostly, technically marvelous dramatic production that is coherent and smoothly flowing, and Venturini's adaptation adheres to the spirit and style of the original. Special recognition is also due to set designer Andrew Redford, lighting designer Jacob Viramontes and costume designer Virginia Yanoff.

A Christmas Carol, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Dec. 17, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $20-$26, pay what you can Thursday, Nov. 30, 253.588.0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org

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