The spirit of Christmas in more ways than one is alive and well at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia. Charles Dickens’ beloved classic 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, with its familiar characters featuring Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley and various ghosts of Christmases—past, present and future—is presented onstage in a fanciful and entertaining musical production.
A Christmas Carol with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens was a fixture each holiday season at the Paramount Theatre in New York’s Madison Square Garden from 1994 to 2003. Menken is an eight-time Oscar-winning composer of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.
David James (who also plays Crachit) directed A Christmas Carol at Toby’s with a skillful touch. The Helen Hayes winner staged a magnificent, well-paced production managing a large cast through the musical numbers, special effects and costume changes on Toby’s in-the-round venue.
Many of the characters’ good attributes as well as shortcomings in A Christmas Carol related in some manner to Dickens’ own life’s experiences that included struggling to make ends meet and witnessing his father hauled off to debtor’s prison while he was a young lad in London. The imaginative story centers on the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (played superbly by David Bosley-Reynolds) and his Christmas Eve to Christmas Day evolution from when he began as a mean, arrogant and friendless soul to one that ended up as a caring, generous human being embodying the true meaning of the Christmas holiday spirit.
This extraordinary transformation in Scrooge’s personality was accomplished through the eerie nocturnal visits from three ghosts: one representing Christmas Past (Heather Beck), one from Christmas Present (Ray Hatch) and one from Christmas Future (Julie Lancione). Through song and dialogue, these ghosts pointed out Scrooge’s failures, the effects of his actions, and the consequences that could occur in the future.
While the music isn’t stellar overall, a few songs stand out (“A Place Called Home,” “Fezzwig’s Annual Christmas Ball” and the Finale). The lyrics worked well, along with the dialogue and actions on stage to spin the tale.
Splendid vocals added to the joy. As Marley, Andrew Horn’s tenor voice excelled in the wonderful production number “Link By Link.” Elena Crall who played Emily, Scrooge’s one-time love, displayed a beautiful soprano in “A Place Called Home.” And Bosley-Reynolds as Scrooge had some strong moments, particularly in “Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today” late in the second act.
Pamela Witt conducted the five-piece orchestra and did a great job backing up the singers and dancers. The sound quality overall in the show was perfect. Drew Dedrick made sure the right balance took place so that the singers were not drowned out by the orchestra, and dialogue was clearly audible. Coleen M. Foley handled the lighting expertly conveying the right effects for the appearances of the ghosts.
Many clever props and furnishings are used onstage and are a strong asset to the show. Street vendor carts, bank teller windows and a dancing skeleton add to the joy. A clock on a façade, though not visible to some in the audience, provides a terrific effect of the ghost’s faces projected on it when the ghost of Marley warns Scrooge of the three visitors he should expect overnight.
But of all the acclaim this show deserves, there is none better than the extraordinary costuming designed by Lawrence B. Munsey. A veritable fixture at Toby’s who has performed every function through the years except perhaps preparing the beef stroganoff as part of Toby’s superb buffet, Munsey meticulously designed 1840-era early Victorian costumes for the large cast. And with many playing multiple roles, Munsey had to have created over a hundred such glorious costumes.
Toby’s tight, well-staged production of A Christmas Carol is great theatre, and it spins the right message as to how the spirit of Christmas and the holiday season in general ought to be.
Running Time: Two hours with a 20 minute intermission.
A Christmas Carol plays through December 30 at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 410-7390-8311 or 1-800-88TOBYS or online.