Saturday, June 23, 2018
Stage

Review: 'A Christmas Carol' is back with new thrills at Freefall Theatre

ST. PETERSBURG — To best measure the strength of a holiday classic, watch it unfold on the faces of young people.

At Freefall Theatre's A Christmas Carol on Sunday afternoon, one little girl screamed for her life when Jacob Marley came raging on stage, awash in green lights and clanking his chains of regret. Her brother spent the rest of the scene alternately giggling and hiding in his shirt like a mole.

Christmas glee! Yes, there is still plenty of satisfying fear and joy in Charles Dickens' redemption tale. Everyone knows Ebenezer Scrooge, the curmudgeon so curmudgeonly he delights in steam rolling all holiday spirit.

"Your sentimentality is sickening," he sneers at his cheerful nephew. "And also a great waste of my time."

It's Christmas, and such petulance can't last. Scrooge has to suffer through his dreary past, present and future with helpful hints before he decides to go nice. The cautionary tale from 1843 still resonates, performed every year in theaters around the world.

This is Freefall's fourth year doing the musical, with book and lyrics by Keith Ferguson and music by Bruce Greer. The songs are traditional English carols and original numbers that bolster the narrative without distracting from it.

Freefall has aimed to turn the show into a community tradition, while finding ways to keep it fresh. This year's production welcomes new faces, including David Mann as Scrooge and Joey Panek as Bob Cratchit. Freefall fans will spot Kelly Pekar and Taylor Simmons from the recently wrapped Into the Woods.

Mann, who played the Emcee in Freefall's Cabaret, lends a gruff bark to Scrooge, a meanness he subtly transforms. Sarasota-based performer Panek, known for his Internet show How Bout Joey, gives Cratchit warmth, sweetness and a really big smile.

Director Eric Davis does his usual strong work filling the stage with creative interpretations. Costumes by Mike and Kathy Buck Designs and Davis are luscious to look at, as is the set by Greg Bierce and Matt Davis. The lighting by Mike Wood is up to Freefall's engaging standards. And there's even snow.

The chief challenge for A Christmas Carol is in the sound, which felt uneven much of the time Sunday. The cast sang to a recorded track, and it seemed hard to find cohesion and rhythm without the benefit of live musicians. The track often drowned out the singers, especially the children and the high sopranos.

The show is just spooky enough for both kids and adults. Davis pinpoints the tale's inherent darkness in a few ways, including the time-tested practice of putting haunting masks on small children. And I almost yelped myself when the Ghost of Christmas Future came lumbering out. Wait for the thrill.

Here's a note from the Ghost of Intermission Present: If you're going to have the festive hot cocoa at the half, enjoy. But hold tight to the ceramic mug, a few of which went clunk on the stairs toward the show's end. Scrooge needs everyone's full cooperation to turn jolly.

Contact Stephanie Hayes at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

Comments
On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

SENDUP: MUSICAL OF MUSICALSFive composers, a talented cast, choreography by Cheryl Lee and music directed by Michael Raabe — that’s Freefall Theatre’s recipe for a laugh-filled, season-ending summer musical, appropriately titled The Musical of Musica...
Published: 06/20/18
Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

TAMPA — The virtues of Dancing at Lughnasa, with which Jobsite Theater closes its season, are many. This drama by the celebrated Brian Friel opened in 1990 to much acclaim. It captures a family’s joys and sadnesses, and the quickness with which one s...
Published: 06/19/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/15/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/16/18
Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

GULFPORT — Brianna Melton is as serious a ballet student as they come.By her junior year at St. Petersburg High’s International Baccalaureate program, she had already spent four summers training with ballet companies across the country and had narrow...
Published: 06/14/18
What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

OPENING: DANCING AT LUGHNASAIrish playwright Brian Friel, who died in 2015 at 86, won’t be traveling anymore. But I’ll bet he packed a tidy suitcase. Dancing at Lughnasa, Jobsite Theater’s season closer, manages to address a lot of issues: race, reli...
Published: 06/13/18
Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall rolls out a new lineup of musicals for its 2018-19 season, a mix of comedy, favorite musicals and romance."For the last 35 years, Broadway has always been a staple at Ruth Eckerd Hall," chief executive officer Zev Buffman said in a p...
Published: 06/12/18
A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

Dr. Jeffrey Grove sat three-quarters of the way back from the stage at Radio City Music Hall, waiting for his moment. The Largo physician made the trip with family to New York for Sunday’s Tony Awards, where he hoped to see his investment in O...
Published: 06/11/18
Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

SIKESTON, Mo. — Neal Boyd, an opera singer who won America’s Got Talent and dabbled in Missouri politics, has died. Scott County Coroner Scott Amick says Boyd died around 6 p.m. Sunday at his mother’s house in Sikeston. He was 42. Amick says Boyd had...
Published: 06/11/18
Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s drama team stole the show at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards Sunday night.The performance brought the crowd— many of whom were wiping tears from their eyes— to its collective feet at the Radio City Music ...
Published: 06/11/18