No humbug here

BETC saves Christmas

0
Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's 2019 production of "A Christmas Carol."
Michael Ensminger

Maybe it’s the lack of snow in the metro area? Or the dearth of Christmas lights throughout great swathes of Boulder (I’m looking at you, Twenty-Ninth Street Mall). Maybe it’s a fatigue born of Christmas decorations and music filling every store and restaurant since the day after Halloween in direct contravention of the Save Thanksgiving Act of 2015? Whatever the reason, even though it’s coming up quick, for a lot of people it just hasn’t felt much like Christmas yet this year.

The theater scene, usually a reliable instiller of Christmas spirit, hasn’t been much help here in 2019. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts traditionally presents locally sourced versions of A Christmas Carol and/or The Santaland Diaries, but due to renovations and executive decisions, respectively, neither one will be brightening the DCPA’s stages this year. As of the writing of this review, the only holiday-themed production you’ll see there the rest of this year is two nights of Manheim Steamroller. Gone is the Avenue Theatre along with its annual, yuletide goof-fest, Santa’s Big Red Sack. The “naughty” list of theaters giving Christmas a pass this year is a long and lugubrious one.

The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) wasn’t having it! As it so often does, BETC anticipated the needs of the theater-going community and acted decisively to meet them.  BETC founders and Fezziwig-like head honchos, Stephen Weitz and Rebecca Remaly, saw this perfect storm of Christmaslessness coming and swooped in to our collective rescue with a merry and magical production of the uber-classic A Christmas Carol. For doing so, BETC has earned the top spot on the nice list and full houses for the rest of the show’s run.

Remaly, a bona fide Christmas Carol aficionado for nearly her entire life, adapted and directed this version, and her conversance with, and love of, the source material shine through. Her adaptation is joyously faithful to Dickens’ original text yet somehow more streamlined and economical, by far, than virtually any other adaptation I’ve ever seen. Remaly’s every decision regarding casting, staging, tone, music — everything — hits the center of the garland-wreathed bullseye.

Scrooge, the mean, miserly, misanthropic, old cuss who must learn the true meaning of Christmas and become a better person or else suffer for it eternally, is a character for the ages and as relevant now as he was when he sprang from Dickens’ quill more than 175 years ago. Here, Scrooge’s whiskers and bald head declare him genuine before Sam Sandoe utters his first line. Not to be outdone by excellent costuming and makeup, Sandoe delivers another of his trademarked, rousing performances. His Scrooge will having you laughing and, quite possibly, crying before everything shakes out on Christmas morning.

Mark Rubald plays Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, the ghost of Scrooge’s erstwhile business partner, Jacob Marley, and Fezziwig himself. Rubald is the caliber of actor that his very presence in a cast functions as a cosmic stamp of approval. An already glowing Christmas Carol blazes to even greater life every time he steps on stage. The always reliable Jihad Milhelm manages multiple characters, including one of the ghosts, as well as some platform shoes that would kill a lesser man. Chloe McLeod, Erika Mori, Damon Guerrasio and a bunch of talented child actors round out the cast and deserve kudos to a one.

The understated set design by Tina Anderson includes touches like a cobblestone-like stage and a clock with no hands hanging from the arch above it. Jason Ducat’s sound design, particularly his work on the ghosts and the aural montage after Scrooge sees the painful, enlightening visions of his Christmases past, are world-building highlights. And the interludes of favorite Christmas tunes, including a most wonderful a capella “Joy to the World,” are the bows on top of this theatrical Christmas present.

BETC’s A Christmas Carol is the holly, jolly cure for anyone feeling the Christmas — or lack of Christmas — blues.  

ON THE BILL: ‘A Christmas Carol’ — presented by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company. Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, betc.org, $22.50 and up. Through Dec. 28.