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Hummable Humbug

Singing Scrooges and dancing Dickens

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It's virtually impossible to pull off a serious attempt at any version of A Christmas Carol, but you can't blame the Fine Arts Center for trying. Taking on Scrooge and Marley is a rite of passage in the world of the theater, and companies define themselves by if and how they decide to treat the great white elephant.

Dickens attracts the prodigal audience in the same way that Christmas Eve services bring out the piety in people who haven't seen the inside of a church since Easter morning. For that reason -- that free token in the game of box-office bingo -- theater companies continue to plunge once more into the fray, and the blue-haired contingent sleeps easy with the satisfaction that Tiny Tim will ride again.

Scrooge! is a good take on the story, keeping faithful to the original while adding a couple dozen songs perfectly suited to the alternatively haunting and festive spirit of Dickens' lively characters from London's Cheapside district. The material is far from indestructible, but a capable cast can bring new life to Ebeneezer's occult odyssey through accomplished renderings of its uplifting love songs, its twisted black humor and a generous helping of chorus numbers guaranteed to raise the roof.

The FAC company delivers an energetic, spirited performance that is easy to enjoy. Geoffrey Lind and Virginia Henley are among the standouts in the double roles of Scrooge's nephew Harry and his wife Helen as well as Young Ebeneezer and his fiancee Isabel, filling the stage with light and color that have long been shaded by Scrooge's gloom. Their tender and evocative "Happiness" is one of the gentle highlights of the evening, and the characters are so enticing we end up yearning for more of them.

Roger Claman leads a joyous chorus romp as Fezziwig, Young Ebeneezer's employer, leading the company through a stomping "December the Twenty-fifth." His quick change into the role of Christmas Present may be too abrupt for the audience's fragile suspension of disbelief, and the exuberant "I Like Life" misses some of that liveliness until a team of toys comes to life for a wind-up dance. The play reaches its peak when Rob Geers anchors the irresistible "Thank You Very Much," a high-stepping street party celebrating Scrooge's passing. Geers gives the production a jolt of momentum with his elevated performance, pulling the whole play up by its bootstraps.

John Gort's best moments as Scrooge come when he putters about in his nightshirt, observing his own life, delighting in his youth, meeting astonishment at the noble behavior of Bob Cratchit and his nephew, and peering with dread into the shadows of his future. When Gort must carry a scene, however, he is too often not up to the task, stumbling through lines of dialogue, pacing aimlessly and missing lyrics and cues in his songs.

With vocal projection permanently banished to the attic of lost arts, the Fine Arts Center mikes the featured performers, a practice as customary in contemporary theater as the inevitable technical gaffes sure to accompany the use of mikes. Scrooge's mikes, for example, picks up his breathing so heavily that there should be a warning in the program alerting anyone suffering from anxiety over obscene phone calls to bring earplugs. The amplified voices are a little tinny at first, but either the sound gets better or the audience gets used to it.

The microphones are a fair trade if that's what it takes to accommodate the splendid nine-piece orchestra, as full and fine an assembly of musicians as any Front Range theater can boast. The set itself is impressive, making up in grandeur what it may lack in detail. T.S. Machina's design features set pieces gliding onstage and descending from above in perfect synchronicity, reflecting the magical quality of the transformative story.


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