Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘A Christmas Carol' scale is huge in Sheboygan

Sheboygan Theatre Company


Just as Ebenezer Scrooge discovers that his name is not chiseled in stone (yet), neither is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Witness “A Lyrical Christmas Carol,” being presented for four more performances this week by Sheboygan Theatre Company in its home theater at Horace Mann Middle School.

The “show” offers a take on the enduring story not seen in this region until now.

Some elements of literature are set aside. Theatricality is played up. Carols and classical music touches are brushed into this portrait. Everything takes place in a wide-screen, adaptable setting – a corner of intersecting, snow-fringed streets in 1840s London.

Scrooge and the Ghost of Marley and Bob Cratchit and nephew Fred and three specters of Christmases do their thing – singing and a dance included – and the stinkin’-souled Scrooge is saved from the junk heap. AND the audience pays close attention because the message of this story resonates in a way of its own.

And, and, and then, at the very end, a massive edition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” unfolds like !!!!!!!!!!!! – 12 exclamation points. Each verse is sung by a different set of the 50-something cast members, often slowing at “Five Golden Rings” for bows. Scrooge and Tiny Tim pep up their “Five Golden Rings” by donning sunglasses and grooving hip-fashion. In a way, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” eclipses the previous recounting of the tale of Scrooge, who looks like he’s going to a bad place until he’s given a chance to pull out a last-second win.

Company managing director Tom Berger wears many hats in this production, including acquiring this piece from Pittsburgh Musical Theater. His players, of many ages, are called upon to act, sing, dance, play a musical instrument and make a stab at British accents and in some cases be an indelible character.

There’s Scrooge, of course. Steve Myers zeroes in on the old coot’s complexities – growly, mean, heartless, stunned, alert, fearful, embarrassed, contrite, overjoyed and gracious. This is a nicely shaped role.

Duncan Doherty and Maria Payant are at the fore as Narrators. They are traffic cops for the story, and they also get to display their forte, singing in colorful ways. Doherty starts the “show’s” musical action by leading a requiem with a chorus of serious singers; they’re giving ol’ Marley his due over a casket in which he lies, deader than a door nail.

Jim Johnson is a genteel presence of familial caring and Christian kindness as Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s put-upon assistant.

Brad Leonhardt grabs attention as Marley, clinking and creeping and serving as a First Alert for Scrooge’s errant soul.

Each of the Ghosts of Christmas has something identifying about her or him. Koral Rose Curkeet (Past) has a ringing voice. Matthew Frei (Present) plays the role really large and boisterous. Rick Hoffmann (Yet to Come) strikes quite the figure with a Halloween-like costume on steroids.

The set is a major character. It also is problematic.

First the good part: The set is striking – wing-to-wing-to-proscenium-arch eye filling. The scene is a perspective, with a domed, gray building at the rear under a distant view of the London skyline (St. Paul’s Cathedral a part of it) under a full, radiant moon. Two-story buildings (stone-and-brick store fronts on the street level) are on either side of the center street. In the shoulders of this scene are Scrooge and Marley’s office to the audience’s left, and a Tudor style building on the corner to the right. The fronts of these structures fold out. Scrooge and Marley’s place becomes the interior of that office and also such places as the Cratchit meager home. The Tudor building becomes Scrooge’s bedroom with a poster bed and nephew Fred’s home interior. For the festive party scene at Fezziwig’s office, both shoulders fold out for dancing that spills onto the entire performance space. For true ambition in scenic design, there’s a pattern in street cobblestone-like bricks in the center of the floor; brick by brick, this has all been painstakingly painted. The degree of patience and determination to create that one effect says something of the passion that’s in this production.

The not-so-good part of the movable set features is when they are moved – physically and in two jerking stages – they creak loudly. Sometimes action is taking place during the scene change, and the sound splashes over onto a line or song. While there is a price to pay in noise, the effects are worth it.

Carols and music in the production are generally from the period of Charles Dickens’ writing. As old and musty as that may sound, most of the carols are heard today. Scrooge gets into “The First Noel” and Tiny Tim sings “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and the entourage sings “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and a whole bunch of others. You know the music.

Sheboygan Theatre Company’s “A Lyrical Christmas Carol” fascinates.


Creative: Novella by Charles Dickens; adaptation – Ken Gargaro, Jane Zachary Gargaro; director/music director/choreographer – Tom Berger; new orchestrations – Tom Berger; additional orchestrations – Cathy Perronne; set designers – Steve Toepel, Sue Toepel; costume designer – Bev Dulmes; lighting designer – Pat Smith; sound designer – Amanda Ellis; properties designer – Nan Gibson; dialect coach – Duncan Doherty; hair/make-up designers – Cathy Perronne, Miriam Kopec; managing director – Tom Berger

Cast: Ebenezer Scrooge – Steve Myers; Narrators – Duncan Doherty, Maria Payant; Fred – David Quinn; Bob Cratchit – Jim Johnson; Mrs. Cratchit – Susan Johnson; Jacob Marley – Brad Leonhardt; Ghost of Christmas Past – Koral Rose Curkeet; Ghost of Christmas Present – Mathew Frei; Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – Rick Hoffmann; Solicitors – Maria Payant, Laura Herrmann; Young Ebenezer – Josiah Guenther; Fan – Berta Meyer; Young Scrooge – Duncan Doherty; Fezziwig – Daniel Hennell; Mrs. Fezziwig – Jackie Blindauer; Dick Wilkins – Cody Gornall; Belle – Danielle Rammer; Belle’s Husband – Tim Kaufmann; Tiny Tim – AJ Kaufmann; Martha Cratchit – Teresa Luke; Peter Cratchit – Leo Viglietti; Belinda Cratchit – Madisyn Weigert; Young Bob Cratchit – Josiah Guenther; Lily Cratchit – Erin Koeppen; Fred’s Wife – Tiffany Bauer; Topper – Levi Kohlmann; Ignorance – Josiah Guenther; Want – Mary Luke; Old Joe – Daniel Hennell; Charwoman – Susan Salm; Mrs. Dilber – Sharon Quinn; Merchants – Lee Trotta, Brad Leonhardt, Jenny Wunderlin; Musicians – Cathy Perronne, Teresa Luke, Leo Viglietti, Brad Leonhardt, Jenny Wunderlin, Mary Luke; Ensemble – Shelby Blaha, Mackenzie Brown, Kate Calvano, Hailey Gruenke, Gracie Guenther, Naomi Harder, Elizabeth Kaufmann, Kim Koeppen, Cathy Perronne, Elizabeth Plotka-Heinen, Katherine Rauscher, Katie Richardson, Alexis Theune, Rachel Thuermer, Jenny Wunderlin

Running time: One hour, 50 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13, 14, 15, 16

Info: sheboygantheatrecompany.com


NEXT: “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, Feb. 9-11, 14-17.

THE VENUE: The 870-seat Leslie W. Johnson Theatre is a spacious facility in the shape of an amphitheater. The seats are red. The ceiling is high. The front row of seats is on the performance level, which is a half circle. A proscenium (flat front) stage area extends across the rear line of the half circle. For “A Lyrical Christmas Carol,” the performance area makes full use of the space. The theater is located in Horace Mann Middle School, which was built in 1970. The aura of the lobby and theater combined is that of a community gathering place.

THE PEOPLE: Leslie W. Johnson was a Sheboygan superintendent of schools. Horace Mann (1796-1859) was a leader in the development of public education in the United States, including the teaching of teachers.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers,” “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words)” and the award-winning “Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain,” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.

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