Critic At Large WeAreGreenBay

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘A Christmas Carol' with twists in Manitowoc

KB Productions

MANITOWOC, Wis. -  

Saturday night, four versions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” ran at exactly the same time on four stages in the region – one in Sheboygan, two in De Pere and one in Manitowoc. How’s that for a regional theatrical phenomenon?

Performing in University Theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc was the local KB Productions with Kathie Bundy directing “A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley.” The performance was the first of two.

The adaptation is by Israel Horovitz, though nowhere in the printed program is Horovitz credited.

Two key elements drive this version.

One: Played up is the presence of Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge’s partner in avarice, who “has been dead these seven years.” In most versions of the classic story, Marley makes only a cameo appearance – one highly dramatic scene filled with clanking chains and dire warnings for money-minded Scrooge. Marley is such a strong force, it seems like he should be around more. In this version, he is. Marley serves as narrator and commentator. He appears at the start and around key turns in the action – and in the biggie scene with the chains and the famous line: “Business! Mankind was my business.” The twist is clever.

Two: Music is a strong factor. Singing is woven through – adults singing a funereal hymn for Marley and songs of the season, children caroling, an all-cast closing best wishes. At a keyboard, Zach Holzer provides background for singers and scene changes, and he has a solo song, too. With the staging of this production being spare and often make do, the music helps color the aura.

As usual, the strength of Charles Dickens’ story is the foundation that holds firm. In this production, key players carefully shape their characters. Phil Kinzel is a sure hand at Scrooge, going from persnickety meanie no matter the person, to shocked observer of the errant ways in his life, to a relieved and rejoicing second-chance soul at the end. Likewise, Warren Schmidt is steady-as-he-goes as Marley, hounding Scrooge and pointing out his failings in Marley’s last-chance mission to make something out of his life in death. Also effective, among others, is Jim Steckmesser as the forever nice Bob Cratchit, who comes up seeing aces no matter how crummy the hand is he is dealt.

This version also shortcuts the traditional version, dispensing with scenes right and left. Still, the story gets told. Performers young and less young slip into roles (most in multiple roles) to shape this compelling tale from 1840s London, England, and mostly get into the flavor of the era and the storytelling. They seem compelled to do so. The budget is small, but hearts are big.

Overheard in the audience at the conclusion of Saturday’s performance: “That was nice.”    

***

Creative: Adaptation – Israel Horovitz, based on the novella by Charles Dickens; director – Kathie Bundy; producer – KB Productions; music director – Zack Holzer; assistants to the director – Dorothy Boutin, Barbara Bundy-Jost; props manager – Jerri Burkart; make-up – Margaret Iannitello; costumes – Claran LaViolette; stage manager – Cathy DeLain; lighting – Pat Schmidt; master builder – Phil Kinzel

Cast: Marley – Warren Schmidt; Scrooge – Phil Kinzel; Ghost of Christmas Future, Men’s Quartet, School Master, Town Person – Chuck Allger; Charity Man, Town Person – Tom Bartelme; Old Joe – Roger Benin; Ghost of Christmas Past – Barbara Bundy-Jost; Bag Lady, Town Person – Jerri Burkart; Dick Wilkins – Kana Coonce; Adriana, Town Person – Alexandria Decker; Fan, Fezziwig Daughter – Jacqueline Dramm; Petra Cratchit, Fezziwig Daughter – Madeline Dramm; Belinda Cratchit, Fezziwig Daughter – Zalaire Fellows; Bag Lady, Town Person – Emily Guillemette; Martha Cratchit, Fezziwig Daughter – Lauren Hildebrant; Mrs. Cratchit, Town Person – Chris Honzik; Fred’s Wife, Town Person – Grace Kolb; Bag Lady, Town Person – Claran LaViolette; Mr. Fezziwig, Grocer, Town Person – Gary Moore; Businessman, Quartet, Town Person – Fred Schnell; Charity Lady, Mrs. Fezziwig, Town Person – Elaine Schroeder; Ghost of Christmas Present – Duane Simmons; Prime Time Scrooge, Town Person – Joey Simmons; Boarding House and Fezziwig Scrooge – Sean Stalvey; Bob Cratchit – Jim Steckmesser; Tiny Tim – Andrew Thiele; Turkey Boy, Town Person – Dominic Thiele; Fred, Town Person – Steve Thiele; Child of Want – Anna Vadney; Child of Ignorance – John Vadney; Ballerina – Hannah Virlee

Running time: One hour, 32 minutes (no intermission)

Remaining performance: 2 p.m. Dec. 17

Info: manitowoc.uwc.edu/arts/theatre

***

THE VENUE: Opened in 2001 as part of Lakeside Hall, University Theatre on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc is a handsome space seating 325. The space has a wide-angle feel. Gray is one prominent color; it’s in squares of acoustical material in the ceiling and on the side and rear walls. Wood, chiefly light toned, also is prominent in areas of framework and on the front of the raised stage. The stage is a hybrid; while it has proscenium (flat-front), a space in front of that bellies out toward the seating area. The seats are of a metallic blue-gray material with black hard plastic backs. Aisle carpeting is taupe with a thick barb wire pattern in white running through. Along with a main seating area, there are sets of box seats with nine seats on both sides near the front. Leg room is super-ample. Overall look: Inviting. Lakeside Hall is a literal name. Lake Michigan is a few hundred yards away.

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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