Historical entertainment planned for joint celebration of three Southwest Arkansas milestone anniversaries
A common thread runs through Alan Souza's directorial efforts at The Rep: fallen men who redeem themselves, and in a flashy musical format, no less. Souza made his Arkansas Rep debut with last season's holiday production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," so it's fitting that he returns this year with another Christmas tale of redemption — "A Christmas Carol, the Musical."
A cast of 19 adults and six children sing and dance their way through the musical telling of Charles Dickens' classic novella about everyone's favorite Christmas curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge (played by David Benoit) and his ghost-aided epiphany. The Rep's production will be a slightly remodeled version of New York's extravaganza that played annually at Madison Square Garden for a decade.
"This piece was made as big holiday entertainment to compete in New York City with Radio City Music Hall's show," Souza said of the original. "So I think one of our challenges is trying to get to the heart of a story that's been told in so many ways, and still bring all of the giant entertainment values, including costumes and surprises and scariness and thrills and all of those bells and whistles."
With lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (the writer and lyricist behind Broadway's "Ragtime," "Seussical" and some of the tunes from "Schoolhouse Rock!"), and music by Disney legend Alan Menken, the "musical" part of the production is sure to be a thrill for audiences — especially families.
"He writes beautiful, sweeping ballads," Benoit said of Menken's original score, written for the New York stage. "He writes good pastiche numbers, such as 'Abundance and Charity.' It's along the lines of 'Beauty and the Beast.' "
Though the tale comes from Dickens and the book (written by Ahrens and Mike Ockrent) and music from Broadway, the sets and costumes will be very much original to The Rep. "One of the beautiful things about a regional theater like this is that this production is being made for this theater. Everything that we chose with the designers and with the staff is for this production," Souza said. That includes the Victorian Industrial period-inspired set, conceived by resident set designer Mike Nichols, as well as the fantastical costumes, products of Michael Bottari and Ronald Case. "We're saying it will be 'Beetlejuice' meets 'Night of the Living Dead' meets 'A Christmas Carol,' " Souza said, laughing.
Ryan G. Dunkin plays Jacob Marley, the famous chain-rattling apparition who sends the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to Scrooge in the night. Dunkin said his glow-in-the-dark costume helps him feel like the frightening apparition: "All of the chains are fake, but there's actually weight to them, so it does bring you down a little bit. And I get to be scary, which is fun."
Benoit transforms from a teddy bear of a man into his grizzled, harsh character when he dons a ritzy cape and top hat, and scowls to accentuate the hard lines drawn on his face. "I love a good villain. Everyone loves a good nasty Grinch, and he has some very funny lines," Benoit said of Scrooge. "But I actually don't see him as a villain; I see him as a victim of circumstance. I want to humanize him. Everything he's ever touched, whether it be his mom, his dad, his sister, his fiance — it's all been taken away from him so it's easier to shut down and hold on to the one thing he can, which is the money and material things. All the experiences in his life caused him to shut down out of self-preservation," Benoit said of his character.
Dickens' tale "really is a story about redemption and the choices that we make to open ourselves up or close ourselves off based on what happens to us. It's about how we find that Christmas spirit in our hearts every single year, or in the case of Scrooge, at all."