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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘A Christmas Carol, The Musical’ keeps on ticking in De Pere

Critic At Large

Birder Players

Ana Lissa Bakken (in one of her guises) and Chad Lemerande (as Ebenezer Scrooge) are key in the Birder Players production of “A Christmas Carol, The Musical.” (Company photo)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV)

“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 forgiveness 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 three more performances to Dec. 14 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 tall, having to stoop to get through the doorway. He’s a presence – large and creepy and scarifying. Zeb Metzler grabs hold of 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. Bring new players in to take on various roles from year to year? 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:

+ The eyes of Chad Lemerande tell so much in all phases of Scrooge. They are expressive without saying a word.

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

+ Zeb Metzler crackles as the snarly/nasty Marley.

+ Bill Frailing brings large gusto to Ghosts of Christmas Present.

+ Among her roles, Ann Preiss Gray offers dark, lurking touches to Ghost of Christmas Future.

+ Various “extras” spark assorted scenes, such as Marley’s personal entourage of four ghosts, the wholesale burst of energy in Mr. Fezziwig’s party, Scrooge being wrapped in gauze and lifted above murky figures in the graveyard scene and the choir of girl angels toward the end.

+ “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.

+ Costume changes are a feat – so many, and so many done quickly. The prize goes to Ana Lissa Bakken, who one moment leaves the stage as the Ghost of Christmas present in a flowing gown and in a few blinks is back on stage in a snappy uniform of a Christmas Soldier, wearing tap shoes to boot.

+ Suddenly, there appears a choir of little Angels – 11 of them, all dressed in white and looking and sounding cute/angelic.

+ The concept of home is crucial in this show. Like the line, “God bless us everyone,” home is a recurring theme. Dorothy Gale was right, there is no place like it. But that’s a different story.

NOTE: All the above with a few exceptions is a repeat of my reviews from the 2017 and 2018 production by the Birder Players. However, much has changed from year to year, notably cast members. This is the same show, yes, but it is not the same production. Movies don’t change; play productions do. In ways, this production is a start-over for Alicia Birder and her creative crew – the cast changes requiring adaptations throughout the show. What’s interesting is how the varied casts really get into doing this story/show from year to year.

***

Running time: 95 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Dec. 12-13; 1 p.m. Dec. 14

Info: birderonbroadway.org

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; lighting design – Andrew Schmitz; sound design – Chris Gabyrczak; sound engineer –Chloe Ledvina; stage manager – Lauren Schultz; assistant stage manager – Madeline Tetzner; choreographer (“Link by Link,” “Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball”) – Anna Allen; choreographer (“Abundance and Charity”) – Ann Preiss Gray; accompanist – Mary Slavek; music assistant – Rose Lemerande; set design – Warren Elliott; prop design – Ann Preiss Gray, Peggy McGee, John Jennings, Beth Remmers Jennings; hair/make-up design – Lois Gegare; scenic artist – Susan Elliott; wardrobe coordinator – Jolee Jackson

Cast (in order of appearance):

Carolers – Emma Adams, Cali Buntin, Mary Delaney, Olivia Frailing, Janelle Fry, Amelia Gibbons, Ava Harpt, Isabella Helstad, Jolee Jackson, Olivia Jackson, Lindsey Lyerly, London McKenzie, Lauren Powell, Gabby Rein, Natalie Rein, Beth Remmers-Jensen, Annabelle Schubring, Lisa Tutskey, Kris Weaver

Charity Men – Bucky Marklein, Keith Pratt, Aidan Guiou

Beadle – Scott Harpt

Business Men – Rob Froling, Josh Lewis

Old Joe – Keith Pratt

Scrooge – Chad Lemerande

Mr. Bob Cratchit – Dan Weaver

Mr. Smythe – Michael Jacobs

Grace Smythe – Isabella Helstad/Lauren Powell

Mrs. Cratchit – Mary Delaney

Tiny Tim – Isaac Helstad

Jonathon – Lindsey Lyerly

Fred Anderson (Scrooge’s nephew) – Bucky Marklein

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 – Lisa Schubring

Poulterer – Beth Remmers Jensen

Baker – Rob Froling

Baker’s Daughter – Ava Harpt

Poulterer’s Daughter – Janelle Fry

Nicole – Addison Harpt

Pantomime Girl – Gabby Rein

Pantomime Kids – Olivia Frailing, London McKenzie, Annabelle Schubring

Mrs. Mops (housekeeper) – Sam McKenzie

 Ann Cratchit – Cali Buntin

Belinda Cratchit – Annabelle Schubring

Janet Cratchit – Olivia Frailing

Martha Cratchit – Olivia Jackson

Mary Cratchit – Emma Adams

Undertakers – Rob Froling, Scott Harpt, Josh Lewis

Ghost of Marley – Zeb Metzler

Head Ghost – Amelia Gibbons

Chest Ghost – Michael Jacobs

Safe Ghost – Ann Preiss Gray

Skeleton Ghost – Beth Remmers Jensen

Judge – Steve Carlson

Scrooge at 8 years – Noah Jackson

Scrooge’s Father – Bucky Marklein

Scrooge’s Mother – Natalie Rein

Jailers – Rob Froling, Keith Pratt

Mr. Hawkins – Bill Frailing

Scrooge at 12 Years – Lindsey Lyerly

Fan – London McKenzie

Factory Workers – Aidan Guiou, Ava Harpt, Josh Lewis

Young Ebenezer – Michael Jacobs

Young Marley – Josh Lewis

Creditors – Mary Delaney, Aidan Guiou, Scott Harpt, Jolee Jackson, Bucky Marklein, Lisa Tutskey

Emily –Savanna Meo

Mrs. Fezziwig – Mary Delaney

Mr. Fezziwig – Steve Carlson

Fiddler – Kris Weaver

Granny Pickwick – Natalie Rein

Granny Chuzzlewit – Ann Preiss Gray

Fezziwig Guests – Amelia Gibbons, Aidan Guiou, Scott Harpt, Michael Jacobs, Jolee Jackson, Olivia Jackson, Josh Lewis, Bucky Marklein, Jenna Peterson, Ann Preiss Gray, Gabby Rein, Natalie Rein, Beth Remmers-Jensen, Madeline Schneider, Lisa Tutskey, Dan Weaver, Kris Weaver

Christmas Soldiers – Ana Lissa Bakken, Amelia Gibbons, Mary Delaney, Ann Preiss Gray, Natalie Rein, Beth Remmers-Jensen

Fred’s Daughter – Janelle Fry

Sally Anderson (Scrooge’s Niece) – Kris Weaver

Guests of Anderson Family – Jackie Cummings, Scott Harpt, Natalie Rein

Cooks – Jenna Peterson, Lisa Schubring

Drunks – Rob Froling, Aidan Guiou, Josh Lewis, Keith Pratt

Salvation Army – Lindsey Lyerly, Gabby Rein

Townspeople – Rob Froling, Jolee Jackson, Josh Lewis, Beth Remmers-Jensen

Towns Children – Janelle Folk, Addison Harpt, Ava Harpt, London McKenzie

Child of Want – Isabella Helstad, Lauren Powell

Child of Ignorance – Noah Jackson

Gravediggers – Ana Lissa Bakken, Amelia Gibbons, Savanna Meo, Madeline Schneider

Monks –Michael Jacobs, Bucky Marklein, Zeb Metzler, Jenna Peterson, Gabby Rein, Natalie Rein, Kris Weaver

Angels – Emma Adams, Jackie Cummings, Olivia Frailing, Janelle Fry, Addison Harpt, Isabella Helstad, Noah Jackson, Olivia Jackson, London McKenzie, Lauren Powell, Annabelle Schubring

***

Musical Numbers (no intermission)

Overture – Piano

“Hear the Bells” – Ensemble

“Jolly Good Time” – Charity Men, Business Men, 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, Fan, Scrooge at 8

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

“The Factory”/“A Place Called Home” (Part 1) – 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

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

“God Bless Us Everyone” – Company

***

NEXT: “Chicago” musical, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, Feb. 6-9, 14-15.

THE VENUE: Broadway Theatre is a 154-seat, 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 movable 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.

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