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Production

A Broadway Christmas Carol

Company

The Arts House

Reviewer

Nadia Bte Ibrahim

Date

14/12/2005

Time

8.00pm

Place

Play Den, The Arts House

Rating

***1/2

What the Dickens

A Christmas Carol has become a tradition every Christmas. The famous novel by Charles Dickens has been told countless times and many of us have seen numerous versions of it on television and on stage. A Broadway Christmas Carol was created by Kathy Feninger, also known as "the Christmas Carol Lady". Combining her love for musicals and Dickens, Feninger began writing some song parodies and ta-da, A Broadway Christmas Carol was born. This production, however, revealed Director Jeremiah Choy was bringing us the Arts House's own take on "Kathy Feninger's fun and funny musical."

When I stepped into the small but cozy Play Den, I was excited by the sight that greeted me. Twinkling Christmas lights illuminated the room and lovely wreaths and bright red flowers set the right mood for the play.

The play begins with Ebenezer Scrooge (Gerald Chew) cruelly dismissing Christmas as "humbug", ranting and raving at people's silliness during Christmas. He refuses his nephew's invitation to dinner and turns the other way when donations are asked. Cheeky musical numbers like I'm In The Money also reveal Scrooge's selfish and cold streak. Chew did a commendable job establishing Scrooge's ugly and unpleasant character, but what was interesting was that despite Scrooge's flaws, Chew had the audience developing a fondness for Scrooge such that by the end of the play, he became a lovable character. Chew managed to tap into the character's vulnerability during the trying periods of his life such as the loss of his fiancée and how those episodes had turned him into a hard and calculating man. An expressive performer, Chew went all out on stage where his over-the-top movements, tone of voice and gestures were all suited to the type of production that was being presented.

The other two actors, Cheryl Miles and Tan Shou Chen, played the part of various characters in the production. Miles played the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's business partner, (yes, as punishment for his ugly deeds, Marley returns as a woman), the spirit of Christmas Present (dressed like a Christmas present), Mrs Cratchit, Scrooge's fiancée and the lady asking for donations. Playing the parts of many characters with different backgrounds and personalities was undoubtedly demanding, but Miles seemed at ease with the many roles, delivering her lines smoothly and always with a touch of humour. Of the three actors, Miles was the most endearing, her mere presence on stage putting a smile on everyone's faces. She was also the most interactive, teasing some members of the audience for donating "real" money. The winner of Talentime 2001, Miles's lovely and clear voice complemented the voices of her male co-actors in the musical numbers. The only complaint I had was that though Miles's cheerful personality shone through in all the roles she played, this same factor might not have worked well for all the characters. For example, I felt that Miles should have mellowed a little when playing certain characters like Mrs Cratchit, who, despite being a loud and boisterous woman, is living a difficult life raising her crippled son, Tiny Tim. As a result, the scene where Tiny Tim dies was not as convincing as it could have been and a mother's grief at the loss of her child was not really conveyed well. However, all in all, Miles was a versatile performer, generally meeting what was required of her. The most memorable scene for me was when she took on the role of Marley. With the big hair, glittery corset and a cigarette between her blood-red lips, Miles looked every inch the cabaret queen. From the sexy and carnal Marley, Miles then did a creditable job transforming into the innocent and fragile fiancée of Scrooge.

Tan, too, took on many roles like the spirit of Christmas Past (dressed as Elvis), Mr Cratchit, Tiny Tim and Scrooge's nephew, Fred. His role as Elvis amused the audience very much, with many giggling as the King of Rock and Roll made his huge entrance. However, it was his role as Tiny Tim, which pulled at heartstrings. In a little boy's voice, he revealed how kids in school mocked him because he was crippled. The musical number he sang, I'm Gonna Walk Tomorrow, where Tan struggled to stand, was sweetly saddening.

Of course, even with their great performances, the actors would not have been able to pull everything off without the music accompaniment by musical director Babes Conde. There was a total of thirty-two songs and each contributed to the production as a whole, creating the right mood and atmosphere for each scene. Conde herself had a part to play, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come. She donned a mask very similar to the one seen on Phantom of the Opera and the effect was quite chilling when, without uttering a word, she showed Scrooge the world after his death. Unfortunately, this part of the production was quite a letdown simply because after being introduced to the first two spirits (Christmas Past and Christmas Present) who were uniquely interesting, colourful and dynamic, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come did not meet the audience's now high expectations. In addition, this spirit was what was supposed to convince Scrooge to mend his ways. Thus, one would have expected more in this part of the play than anywhere else.

However, all in all, the production was a success. The music was an important part of the production and credit must be given to Conde. The sentimental ending that the audience was treated to was also a gentle reminder this Christmas to be kind and loving, as well as to enjoy the warmth and happiness of family and friends.


"The sentimental ending that the audience was treated to was a gentle reminder this Christmas to be kind and loving, as well as to enjoy the warmth and happiness of family and friends."

Credits

Cast: Gerald Chew, Babes Conde, Cheryl Miles and Tan Shou Chen

Director: Jeremiah Choy

Musical Director: Babes Conde

Executive Producer: Mary Loh

Associate Producer: Michele Lim

Choreographer: Zaini Tahir

Costume Designer: Mothar Kassim

Lighting Design: Yo Shao An

Production Stage Manager: James Tay

Hair: Ashley Lim

Make Up: Mariam Abdullah

More Reviews by Nadia Bte Ibrahim

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.