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Friday, November 18, 2016

'A Christmas Carol' Live Stage: Trinity Repertory Puts 'Princess Bride' Spin on Dickens Classic

The Trinity Repertory Company, which is the official state theater of Rhode Island, in Providence meets great expectations regarding its annual presentation of the Charles Dickens story "A Christmas Carol." The creative take by Trinity in the (Unreal TV reviewed) season-opener musical "Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage" is the basis for the realized hope regarding the current production not being your father's staging of "Carol." The play runs through December 31, 2016.

As the "Beowulf" review mentions, the subject matter of "Carol" makes it a perfect choice for the "Ghosts of the Past, Dreams of the Future" theme of the 53rd Trinity season. "The Mountaintop," which is about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr," that opens in January 2017 is equally true to the spirit of this series.

The "Green" (as opposed to alternate "Red") trio of elementary-school age kids coming out and singing the usual disclaimers regarding silencing cell phones and not crinkling paper to the tune of "Silent Night" at the beginning of "Carol" is the first indication that director (and Brown University MFA) James Dean Palmer is staying very true to the Trinity spirit of Christmas present.

These two girls and a guy then settle into the living room set where their grandfather (played by awesome veteran Trinity Scrooge portrayor Brian McEleney) is just finishing up reading the kids "Carol."

The father of the family getting down to paperwork on Christmas Eve provides a false start by creating an impression that the play will revolve around his transformation. However "Child 3" confronting Dad about his lack of Christmas spirit starts father/wonderfully baritone voice narrator Kamili Okweni Feelings reading the Dickens classic from the beginning; this in turn moves the action to Victorian England, where McEleney begins playing the character that he knows and loves so well.

The clearly loving but irreverent slant on "Carol" and the technique of interspersing the reading of the story with depicting scenes from the source material evoke great thoughts of the hilarious 1987 film "The Princess Bride." That one has a grandfather whom Peter Falk plays reading a fairy tale to an initially cynical boy whom Fred Savage plays.The very Trinity-consistent "Bride" vibe is particularly strong regarding an interruption near the end of the play.

The Victorian portion of the evening opening with a modern musical number and portraying the two solicitors for the poor as even gayer versions of the Looney Toons chipmunk characters are other early indications of the Trinity twist on this oft-oft-oft-told tale.

The story then stays relatively close to the Dickens version with a few surprises that are too special to spoil. Of the three main ghosts, the fun-loving Ghost of Christmas Present is the most notable. This portion also particularly gives McEleney a chance to shine as he rocks out and live like he's just begun.

Palmer does even better staging the final scenes in which Scrooge embraces life. The giddiness that everyone's favorite miser experiences is hilarious and extends to moderate audience interaction. This further includes an amusing modern twist on the scene in which an exuberant Scrooge hires two girls to but the ginormous turkey that is hanging in the butcher shop window.

A gaffe that one can only hope becomes part of the play involves one of the errand girls dropping a coin that Scrooge gives her. Not missing a beat, McEleney comments on this, gives an audience member the coin, and goes on to distribute other currency among the theater goers.

All of this amounts to a child-friendly show that is new enough to the younger members in the audience to thrill them and unique enough to make it endearing to those of us who have seen several traditional stagings and countless sitcom variations of the play.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Carol" is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.