The Players of Sarasota ring in the holidays with A Country Christmas Carol.
By Kay Kipling
When something is as lasting as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, there’ll always be some new way to adapt and transform it. Case in point: the current Players of Sarasota production, A Country Christmas Carol (the title tells all about the show’s emphasis).
In this often lively rendition of the classic story of a miser visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, the flint-hearted banker, Scrooge (Doug Nelson), is mostly known to folks as Eb. In the year 1954, he’s managed to get his hands on most of the property around rural Marley County. As per the original, he’s also managed to make life miserable for everyone around him, including his long-suffering assistant, this time a female (and a widow) named Bobbie Jo Cratchit (Jennifer Baker); his hard-drinking nephew, Dwight (Chip Fisher); and the former owner of the hotel where he now resides, Lavinia (Phyllis Banks).
Christmas Eve in this musical version of the story coincides with the county talent show, so that’s an excuse for many of the songs, written by Albert Evans and Ron Kaehler. (Kaehler also wrote the book, which does on occasion quote more or less directly from Dickens.) Several of them are noteworthy; two tunes sung by Baker, A Golden Idol and God Bless Us, Everyone, sound as if they could easily turn up on a country radio station. And The Christmas Train, the most rousing song of the show as led by an inebriated but energetic Fisher, is one you could hum to yourself as you leave the theater as well.
Fisher and Baker are both well accustomed to taking the Players stage, and they’re in fine form as usual. Nelson also makes his mark as Scrooge, although the nature of the role often means he’s watching what others do, as his ghosts take him to various times and places. (Among the ghosts are longtime musician Betty Comora, believable as a wise old Christmas Past, and former city commissioner Ken Shelin, suitably hearty as Christmas Present.) Channing Weir, as Bobbie Jo’s smart daughter, Jane, again demonstrates impressive vocal and acting talent for a teen; Brandon Reid has some amusing moments as her son, Tim; and Mike Phelan in a host of roles carries the right country air.
There are some down sides to both the book (which takes too long to start telling the story and remains vague and superficial about Tim’s illness) and the production (which suffered a bit with set and technical issues the night I attended). But there is something that’s eternally funny and touching about this perennial Christmas tale, and this country version may tug at your heartstrings while also getting you to tap your feet.
A Country Christmas Carol has been extended to Dec. 20; call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org for ticket info.