It’s kind of like when I heard there was going to be a live-action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. After having scene actor Philip Pleasants portray Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, year after year, I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it. Last year, as I watched Pleasants’ performance for the last time before he retired, I felt really sad – like saying goodbye to an old friend. “How could anyone capture the wretchedness and redemption and delightfulness as well as he did?” Well, it happened. Someone else could fill those leather slippers, making his own mark.
With its 24th staging of the Charles Dickens classic, Denver Center Theatre Company made long time Denver Center actor, Sam Gregory the new Scrooge. Only people who are regulars to this production will notice the differences. The music is the same, the sets are the same and, of course, the storyline is the same: angry, sad and bitter Ebenezer Scrooge is forced to see the error in his ways, sees how life can be better and changes. It’s a really wonderful lesson that all of us can learn from to different degrees.
Gregory is a good 20 years younger than Pleasants and, in his mid-fifties, is the age Ebenezer was supposed to be. His relative youth didn’t come across to me, really, but the idea was that the audience could imagine that Ebenezer still had a lot of years left ahead of him to make an impact with his changed character. To me, it wouldn’t matter whether he had one day or 30 years left to leave a positive impact in the world as long as he did change!
Despite having loved the previous production (and virtually having memorized every word and every move), the new production is fantastic! Everything was amped up – it was more scary, more troubling, more inspiring, more moving, more humorous and more inspirational.
There were several stand-out performances. Jeffrey Roark as Jacob Marley is one. The costumes, lighting and staging for this scene have always been big (and pretty darned frightening). But Roark’s agony and burden are palpable. Oh the misery of it all! And the scene where Sam Gregory, as Scrooge puts his hand on the shoulder of his schoolboy self is heart-wrenching. Oh, to have the opportunity to comfort your younger self during moments of sadness and desperation. Latoya Cameron was the Ghost of Christmas Past and Mrs. Cratchit. Her kind face and loving smile suited both roles so well. Cameron was one of several African American actors, bringing much more diversity to the cast than we’ve scene before (the lack thereof has bothered us in the past). But this time, the Cratchit family was made up of black and white actors – in one family – what a great image and message to show the youth in the audience. Brian Vaughn, plays the pitiful clerk to Scrooge and sensitive husband and father in the Cratchit family. During his Christmas Day toast to his family, you could have heard a pin drop – followed by sniffling and nose-blowing from the moved audience.
A Christmas Carol always takes the audience on a ride through emotions, reflection and entertainment – but never more than in this year’s production. Sometimes, change brings new life and energy that’s even better than what we loved before.
A Christmas Carol runs through December 24 at The Stage Theatre.