Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Birder Players' ‘Carol' sings, indeed, in De Pere

‘A Christmas Carol, the Musical'

DE PERE, Wis. - “God bless us everyone!” famously ends Charles Dickens’ classic story, “A Christmas Carol.” That line is given added duty in the clever “A Christmas Carol, the Musical.” The line keeps popping up with assorted meanings and forms a structure for the musical. Most powerfully, “God bless us, everyone” is sung by a little girl to money-grubbing Ebenezer Scrooge as the casket holding the girl’s mother is carried to burial. Scrooge has turned down the girl’s father’s appeal for a loan in his and his daughter’s time of deep need. This scene – not in the book – underlines how truly heartless Scrooge has become. In ways, the musical improves on Dickens.

Birder Players is offering “A Christmas Carol, the Musical” in six more performances through Dec. 16 in the company’s Broadway Theatre. It’s a vibrant production by the hybrid entity – part performance studio players and part community players.

The show has been around for more than 30 years, but it’s not done much on the local scene. Why? It’s so big and tricky.

The cast/character list is longer than your arm. While Broadway Theatre is larger than a postage stamp, the backstage logistics for this production are extremely coordinated to move all the bodies in and out in close quarters.

On stage, there is vivid action. Notably, Chad Lemerande paints a portrait of Scrooge with bold, sure brushstrokes. Lemerande has impressed with a number of big leading-male roles, and here is another one he accomplishes. His Scrooge is well-studied and well-sung. Lemerande’s performance is the backbone of the production – the labor of his getting into and out of Scrooge’s nightclothes notwithstanding. ALSO, Lemerande is music director.

The musical starts out lightly as London street scenes of the 1830s are played out. And then the thing lights on fire. After eating a Christmas Eve bowl of gruel in his quarters, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his partner, Jacob Marley. This Marley is gnarly. He’s nimble, wiry, slinky, dynamic and scarifying. Alex Sabin consumes the role, assisted by a bald-pate headpiece, decay-like make-up and “rotting” clothing, complete with hoarded coins and chain links of misdeed Marley gathered in life. The scene is a grabber, and there are others, with two of special note:

One. “Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball” is a production number, with the ensemble stirring up festive song and dance spread out all over the wide, wide stage.

Two. “Abundance and Charity” finds six wooden soldier-like figures tap dancing a hail storm of catchy rhythms.

The direction by Alicia Birder has a can-do feel to it. Need experienced players as leads? – can do. Need a bunch of practiced youth players to fill a variety of roles? Can do. Ask everybody to reach a bit? Can do.

The scenes with Scrooge’s three visiting ghosts all have oomph, and each is haunting in its own way. Each adds elements to the tale and Scrooge’s character. The basics still are there, but different.

The sound foundation is laid by Mary Slavek, an orchestra of a pianist.

This and that:

+ Rising above ensemble singing are very large notes from Sallie Petty as Mrs. Fezziwig.

+ Ann Lissa Bakken brings an all-knowing aura to the Ghost of Christmas Past in singing and how she controls Scrooge.

+ Ann Preiss Gray brings a flowing dance element to the Ghost of Christmas Future, ending the scene in an eye-catching way as she pushes Scrooge into his chair as a chiffon sheet floats down over the outline of his form.

+ Various “extras” spark assorted scenes, such as the rhythm of the “digging” by four gravediggers and Marley’s personal entourage of four ghosts.

+ “A Christmas Carol” is like other great classics (William Shakespeare plays come to mind) that are interpreted from all kinds of directions. This musical softens some parts of the story but also digs into the darkness of Scrooge. The musical theater element in ways fleshes out the story. It’s good stuff, and this is an enlivening production.


Creative: Music – Alan Menken; lyrics – Lynn Ahrens; book – Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens, based on Charles Dickens’ novella; director, choreographer – Alicia Birder; music director – Chad Lemerande; set design – Warren Elliott; lighting design – Andrew Schmitz; sound design – Chris Gabyrczak; stage manager – Frank Tower; choreographer (“Link by Link,” “Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball” – Anna Allen; choreographer (“Abundance and Charity”) – Ann Preiss Gray; accompanist – Mary Slavek; prop design – Peggy McGee; hair/make-up design – Lois Gegare; wardrobe coordinator – Sam McKenzie

Cast (in order of appearance): Carolers – Leya AbuJamara, Hannah K. Blecha, Amelia Gibbons, Isabella Heidemann, Cindy Howard, Olivia Jackson, Beth Remmers Jensen, Hannah Knutson, Rose Lemerande, Carrie Platten Liehauser, Duncan Liedtke, Lawson Liedtke, London McKenzie, Kiana Lea Noggle, Natalie Rein, Georgia Steenbock, Sallie Petty, Kris Wegge; Charity Men – Will Knaapen, Rich Noffsinger, Noah Tetzner; Beadle – Keith Pratt; Businessmen – Austin Helstad, Leinen Raye Kugle; Old Joe – Keith Pratt; Scrooge – Chad Lemerande; Mr. Cratchit – Tim Olejniczak; Mr. Smythe – Michael Jacobs; Grace Smythe – Georgia Steenbock; Martha Cratchit – Rose Lemerande; Mrs. Cratchit – Cindy Howard; Tiny Tim – Isaac Helstad; Jonathon – Aidan Guiou; Fred Anderson (Scrooge’s nephew) – Rich Noffsinger; Ghost of Christmas Present (Sandwichboard Man) – Bill Frailing; Ghost of Christmas Past (Lamplighter) – Ana Lissa Bakken; Ghost of Christmas Future (Blind Hag) – Ann Preiss Gray; Fish Seller – Bethany Reilly; Poulterer – Beth Remmers Jensen; Baker – Leya AbuJamra, Ava McGee (Dec. 2); Nicole – Kiani Lea Noggle; Pantomime Girl – Gabby Rein; Mrs. Mops (housekeeper) – Carrie Platten Liebhauser; Ann Cratchit – London McKenzie; Belinda Cratchit – Isabella Heideman; Janet Cratchit – Olivia Jackson; Peter Cratchit – Duncan Liedtke; Charwoman – Annette Johnsrud; Undertaker – Austin Helstad, Noah Tetzner; Ghost of Marley – Alex Sabin; Head Ghost – Hanna Knutson; Chest Ghost – Hannah K. Blecha; Safe Ghost – Ann Preiss Gray; Skeleton Ghost – Beth Remmers Jensen; Judge – John Shier; Scrooge at 8 years – Lawson Liedtke; Scrooge’s Father – Rich Noffsinger; Scrooge’s Mother – Natalie Rein; Jailer – Keith Pratt; Mr. Hawkins – Bill Frailing; Scrooge at 12 years – Aidan Averbeck; Fan – Amelia Gibbons; Factory Workers – Aidan Guiou, Austin Helstad, Will Knaapen, Leinen Raye Kugle, Rich Noffsinger, Noah Tetzner; Young Ebenezer – Will Knaapen; Young Marley – Leinen Raye Kugle; Creditor – Rich Noffsinger, Bethany Reilly, Noah Tetzner; Emily – Hannah Knutson; Mrs. Fezziwig – Sallie Petty; Mr. Fezziwig – John Shier; Violin Player – Kris Wegge; Granny Chuzzlewit – Annette Johnsrud; Granny Pickwick – Natalie Rein; Christmas Soldier – Ana Lissa Bakken, Hannah K. Blecha, Ann Preiss Gray, Beth Remmers Jensen, Hannah Knutson, Natalie Rein; Child of Ignorance – Kiani Lea Noggle; Child of Want – Duncan Liedtke; Gravediggers – Leya AbuJamra, Ana Lissa Bakken, Amelia Gibbons, Hannah Knutson, Ava McGee (Dec. 2); Monks – Michael Jacobs, Annette Johnsrud, Will Knaapen, Kris Liedtke, Gabby Rein, Natalie Rein, Noah Tetzner; Angels – Leya AbuJamra, Amelia Gibbons, Isabella Heideman, Olivia Jackson, Rose Lemerande, Duncan Liedtke, Lawson Liedtke, Ava McGee (Dec. 2), London McKenzie, Kiani Lea Noggle, Georgia Steenbock; Guest – Will Knaapen; Fred’s Son – Lawson Liedtke; Sally Anderson (Scrooge’s niece) – Bethany Reilly; Townspeople – Aidan Averbeck, Hannah K. Blecha, Ann Preiss Gray, Austin Helstad, Cindy Howard, Beth Remmers Jensen, Annette Johnsrud, Carrie Platten Liebhauser, Lawson Liedtke, Sallie Petty, Natalie Rein, Kris Wegge


Running time: 70 minutes (no intermission)

Remaining performances: 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 2; 7 p.m. Dec. 14, Dec. 15; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 16

Info: birderstudio.org


Musical Numbers

Overture - Piano

“Hear the Bells” – Ensemble

“Jolly Good Time” – Charity Men, Businessmen, Ensemble

“Charity Men” – Charity Men, Scrooge

“Nothing to Do with Me” – Scrooge, Mr. Cratchit, Mr. Smythe, Grace Smythe, Ensemble

“Scrooge’s House” – Mrs. Mops, Scrooge

“Link by Link” – Ghost of Jacob Marley, Skeleton, Chest Ghost, Head Ghost, Safe Ghost

“The Lights of Long Ago” – Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge

“Old Bailey” – Jailer, Judge, Scrooge’s Mother, Scrooge’s Father, Scrooge at 8

“The Lights of Long Ago” (Part 2) – Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge

“The Factory”/“A Place Called Home” – Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge at 12, Fan, Factory Workers

“Mr. Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball” – Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge, Mr. Fezziwig, Mrs. Fezziwig, Ensemble

“A Place Called Home” – Emily, Young Ebenezer, Scrooge, Ghost of Christmas Past.

“Money Machine Montage” – Young Marley, Ghost of Marley, Scrooge, Ghost of Christmas Past, Young Ebenezer, Creditors

“Abundance and Charity” – Ghost of Christmas Present, Dancing Soldiers, Scrooge

“Christmas Together” – Scrooge, Cratchit Family, Ensemble

“Will Tiny Tim Live?” – Scrooge

“Dancing on Your Grave” – Ghost of Christmas Future, Scrooge, Monks, Gravediggers, Undertakers, Mrs. Mops, Old Joe, Cratchit Family

“Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today” – Scrooge, Ghost of Christmas Future

“The Years Are Passing By” (reprise) - Jonathan

“Finale” – Scrooge Cratchit Family, Anderson Family, Jonathan, Businessmen, Mrs. Mops, Ensemble

“God Bless Us Everyone” – Company


NEXT: “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” Feb. 1-10.

THE VENUE: Broadway Theatre is a 3,000-square-foot facility at 123 S. Broadway on the east side of the Fox River in De Pere. The building started life as the Majestic Theatre sometime around 1930. The space is essentially a “black box” performance space that is adjusted to the needs of a specific production. The rectangular space includes a high, arcing ceiling consisting primarily of its original patterned tin, painted white, and a laminate dark brown floor. The stage is set on a long leg of the space, with moveable seating for 140 on three sides. The stage has an angled front with three steps to the top surface. The stage is painted blue, with speckles. Performances can spill from the stage onto the main level of the seating area, so action often is up close and personal. The theater is the home for performances and rehearsals of the youth Birder Studio of Performing Arts and adult Birder Players, and it is another option for other endeavors of entertainment.

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” and “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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