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REVIEW: ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Music Mountain Theatre in Lambertville

(Photo: Kasey Ivan)

By John Millman-Dwyer

I want to begin by quoting one of my favorite writers. Ok, I’m quoting myself. This is not vanity, but just belief in the absolute truth which I stated in my last year review of  “A Christmas Carol,” an annual family tradition at Music Mountain Theatre. I began that review with these three paragraphs (slightly changed):

“The first time I saw ‘A Christmas Carol,’ the musical adaptation by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, was last year [December 2017]. I knew then, as many already did, that it would be something I would want to see again and again and again. Music Mountain Theatre does a great job with this classic. The story is one we all know…

“The book by Charles Dickens was first published in 1843 by Chapman and Hall, a London publisher that had employed me for several years in New York City. It was successful from the get-go. The first edition was out on Dec. 19, and sold out by Christmas Eve. It was that very popularity that might make you think what could be better than the book or one of the many movie adaptations starring everyone from Alistair Sim to George C. Scott to Bill Murray. Another musical retelling seems unnecessary. We already had a singing Albert Finney and Mr. Magoo. So, with a glut of Scrooges, I was delighted when I went to see this show and discovered how this stage version captured the essence of the season anew for me.

(Photo: Kasey Ivan)

“David Whiteman in the lead role is a great actor, which is needed more than anything else, to tell this tale. You can be a good singer but that is certainly not enough. You have to have the acting chops to show the extraordinary journey that Scrooge goes through in one night that goes from fond memories to a mixed joy to terror and finally to uplifting, glorious redemption. It is why producers only choose the best actors to play the role, and Whiteman is that. He never disappoints.”

Much of the cast is the same as last year, which should be good news to your ears. They were amazing last year and are equally so this year. What this production exudes is love and authenticity. The actors and actresses here are top notch. Many you have seen throughout the season, and some are taking on much smaller roles than usual just be in this show, which is so much about family.

The theater can also be a family, and certainly that is true with the Music Mountain Theater Company. When I talk about the authenticity of the production, I am talking about what Dickens wanted to get across in his novella. With many who may be rushed throughout the year or with some whose focus is solely making money or some other false endeavor, Dickens asks us to look at where we have been, where we are and where we are going. He asks us to embrace family and community. We are asked to follow a tradition of kindness and giving.

(Photo: Kasey Ivan)

Music Mountain Theater has filled its stage with actors who believe in that. More than 60 of them are raising a joyful voice. These include the talented, mesmerizing Jacob Marley as played by Alex Klein, and the effervescent and glittery Christmas Past played by the always charming Jill Palena Gibilisco. Not to be outdone, the ebullient Christmas Present hasn’t a ghost of a chance at being anything except joyous and wonderful when played with the wide-grinned joyfulness of David McCloughan, Jr. And finally, there is the artistry happening when the Ghost of Christmas Future is seen in the most foreboding terms. This occurs when the ghost presents itself as a beaten-down old woman played by Ali McMullen, along with the hyperkinetic impending energy seen in a dance of vengeful grace executed by the elegant Sharon Rudda.

The magic that is happening here is real. Many of these incredibly talented thespians are brothers and sisters, parents and children. There is a high that the cast is feeling from this exuberant connectivity that rolls off of the stage and to us in the audience.

I will use Ebenezer’s words to describe how one feels as you leave this unforgettable production, now in its tenth year.

“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man.” And that is how you will feel.

(Photo: Kasey Ivan)

Then Scrooge says, and so will you: “A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!”

To celebrate the holidays nothing will give you greater joy than this tuneful musical by the celebrated composer Alan Menken and lyricist Lynn Aherns. What wraps up the entire show is their sweet and oddly haunting song, “There’s a Place Called Home.”

Love is home, and home is love, and there is plenty of both at Music Mountain Theatre. The show runs through through Dec. 15.

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