THE BASICS: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, by Charles Dickens, adapted and directed by Neal Radice, in its 35th season at the Alleyway, runs through December 23, Saturday December 16 at 2 and 5*, Sunday December 17 at 2 and 5, Friday December 22 at 7:30 p.m., final Saturday December 23 at 5 and 8* (*denotes sold out shows) (852-2600). www.alleyway.com (Check the website for discounts.) (By the way, the theater entrance is on “Curtain Up Alley” which is the pedestrian alley connecting Pearl and Main Streets running along the south wall of the building.) Arrive 20-30 minutes early for caroling by a delightful quartet, otherwise runtime is a little over 90 minutes with one intermission. As a fundraiser, souvenir shirts ($25), ornaments, etc. are for sale, hot cider $1. Caroling and photo-ops after.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This is the well-known story of the mean, miserly, misanthropic Scrooge visited by the three spirits of Christmas past, present, and future and his change of heart, enjoyably presented in a traditional manner set in London, 1843, from the famous prologue – “Old Marley was as dead as a doornail” – to Tiny Tim’s “bless us everyone” at the curtain.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Because the character Scrooge is so central to the story, because he is “larger than life,” but mostly because he is the only one to exhibit a memorable “character arc” (undergo a major change) most versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL are referred to by the name of the actor who plays him. In the movies your favorite might be Alastair Sim, George C. Scott, Michael Caine, or, in the current release of “The man who invented Christmas,” Christopher Plummer. On stage at the Alleyway, A CHRISTMAS CAROL stars one of Buffalo’s best “tough guy” actors, David C. Mitchell.
Mitchell is appropriately scary in the opening scenes so that his change of heart is all the more dramatic. He is joined on stage by a host of Alleyway regulars including Joyce Stilson, James Cichocki, Roger VanDette, Jerry Hudson, Emily Yancey, Michelle Holden, David G. Poole, and three very talented children – Allison Barsi, Shawn Calmes, Jack Flammer.
Long before the play begins, the high production values were established when we were serenaded by a classically trained four-part vocal quartet.
Long before the play begins, the high production values were established when we were serenaded by a classically trained four-part vocal quartet, so good in fact that I immediately turned to my program. Anchored and coached by tenor Roger VanDette who is, by day, the vocal music teacher at Starpoint H.S., the other male voice is Alleyway veteran David G. Poole, and the two sopranos both with degrees in Vocal Performance are local opera singers Michele Holden and Emily Yancey (most recently seen as “Pamina” in Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE produced by Buffalo Opera Unlimited). As it happened, I went on a particularly nasty, snowy Buffalo night yet the vocal quartet seemed to be honestly having a great time as they kept us entertained with over a dozen carols while the house manager waited for latecomers. Those gray clouds over Lake Erie did indeed have a silver lining!
Now, many plays in the Buffalo area, due to meagre budgets, are under-rehearsed, and when a play is new or is a Western New York premiere, that’s added pressure. But this version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL is in its 35th season (congratulations on being America’s fifth longest production) and over that time the Alleyway has learned a trick or two. All the production elements clicked: the sound effects, the lighting, the set including Scrooge’s spinning bed, the direction, all by Neal Radice in his 35th year of shepherding this production. It is very entertaining.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!