Theater Review: Studio Tenn’s 2013 ‘Carol’ is Tremendous

IMG_8867-5If Studio Tenn’s 2012 A Christmas Carol was transcendent, its 2013 version is even more tremendous. Like a good Nutcrackeror two, given the excellent work of our leading dance companies – Charles Dickens’ tale of redemption when it’s done this well should be on everyone’s perennial holiday entertainment calendar.

2013ChristmasCarolThe expansion from the more intimate Franklin Theatre to Polk Theater’s larger proscenium stage at Tennessee Performing Arts Center has allowed Director/Designer Matt Logan to have a grander setting for Paula Y. Flautt’s faithful and vibrant adaptation of Dickens’ 1843 novella. He and co-Set Designer Mitch White have installed a stone-wall-backed set lit to perfection by Stephen Moss that evokes the gray institutions and life of early Victorian London; I confess that when I first laid eyes on their marvelous handiwork I half-expected young workhouse boys to appear singing “Food, Glorious Food” from Oliver!, but since they and that musical were both inspired by Dickens it’s a very appropriate backdrop.

IMG_8676-2Chip Arnold once again masterfully makes Ebenezer Scrooge so much more than a miser. Even knowing the story and outcome we find him incredibly repugnant at first; his gradual transformation into a better soul still surprises and delights as if this story was brand new.

IMG_9008-7One of the 2012 production’s highlights is also one of this year’s singular joys: Matthew Carlton and Nan Gurley as the Fezziwigs give us one of the best gifts of the season as they duet on the lovely traditional ballad “I’ll Walk Beside You.” Those two provide other character gems that include Carlton’s woeful Jacob Marley and Gurley’s easily excitable Mrs. Fred’s Sister.

IMG_9207-11Madeleine Hall’s balletic Ghost of Christmas Past and Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva’s commanding Ghost of Christmas Present return in full pleasing form for this outing; Savannah Frazier (also a poignant Belle) sends chills down the spine as the Ghost of Christmas Future (or Yet to Come, as Scrooge says). Amanda Card (her giggle as Mrs. Fred is priceless), Patrick Waller (a perfectly exuberant nephew Fred), Brent Maddow (a heart-rending Bob Cratchit), Mike Baum (a caring husband in more than one instance) and Kim Bretton (Bob’s nothing-gets-past-her-missus) provide their ample talents to the well-paced proceedings too.

I am pleased to report that Bretton’s son, the now six-and-three-quarters-year-old Herbie Horrocks, is apparently resolute in his determination to remain absolutely adorable in his role as Tiny Tim. (Well, actually he’s adorable in all his appearances on stage, and like his fellow performers – including Bella Higginbotham, Jack Alcott, Arden Guice, Charlie Webb, Mary Marguerite Hall, Garris Wimmer and all previously mentioned actors – he knows how to deliver a line and believably live in the moment onstage.)

IMG_9703-16Emily Tello Speck’s fine-fitting choreography enhances the fluid movement of this show; looking good during that movement (and all other times) are the wonderful wigs of Sondra Nottingham, also this show’s wide-ranging makeup artist (and assisted in both by Dreaona Kennedy), and the terrific contemporary-to-period costumes fashioned by Logan and Anna Rushworth.

Danny Northup‘s sterling sound design and the Studio Tenn Orchestra – Music Director/Conductor Nathan Burbank, Ken Ozimek, Deidre Emerson, David Dismuke and Caitlin Nicol-Thomas – are heaven to the ears. The musicians play orchestral slices of Mozart, holiday traditionals, an air by Edward Lockton and Alan Murray, original music by Burbank and more, providing a rich and often sweet underscore to this treasured tale. They and their colleagues insure that Studio Tenn’s latest helping of A Christmas Carol is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, ears and heart.

IMG_8551-1Studio Tenn’s production of A Christmas Carol directed by Matt Logan runs through Dec. 22 at Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Polk Theater. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit StudioTenn.com or call the TPAC box office at (615) 782-4040.

 

IMG_9690-15IMG_9078-10IMG_9349-12IMG_9770-18IMG_9555-13IMG_9056-9IMG_8783-4IMG_8712-3IMG_8891-6IMG_9568-14IMG_9039-8IMG_9734-17IMG_9879-19*Photos and video by ANTHONYMATULA courtesy of Studio Tenn.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).