The trick to reviewing Charleston Stage's adaptation of A Christmas Carol is that criticizing it — particularly in the midst of a funding crisis — feels an awful lot like playing the role of Scrooge yourself.
Hard times for arts organizations?
Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?
Charleston Stage has been through the financial wringer lately and certainly could use a break. But opening night for this year's A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas was a bumpy ride in a half-full hall at the Sottile Theatre. And to offer charity to the city's most prominent theatrical company after a jittery performance would be to cripple it with condescension.
The show delivers on many of its promises. The adaptation fits cleanly within the mainstream tradition of American musical theater. One may safely take one's children and grandparents. And judging by reaction from the hall, the audience seemed to be at least modestly satisfied, rewarding the cast with applause after most of the musical numbers and concluding with the city's signature standing ovation.
Its strengths are tangible. The large cast puts a hefty thump behind the choruses, there's no skimping on costumes, and the physical mechanisms of set, backgrounds, lighting, and effects are ambitious and occasionally clever.
Like wire flying? Then this is your show.
Director Marybeth Clark has her cast zooming around in the mists from the first scene to the final act. Some of the acting stands out, too (particularly dual roles by David and Susie Hallatt, who appear as Scrooge's domestic servants, as well as two of his visiting specters).
Eventually, though, the glitches added up: The over-loud hissing of the fog machine. The over-modulated amplification of Randy Risher's shouted lines as Scrooge. A hot microphone somewhere off-stage broadcasting some scene-change fumblings. And will someone please pin that ornate hood to the hair of Viveka Chandraeskaran (Caroline)?
The worst moment came when the Ghost of Christmas Future descended from his wire-flying act into a burst of fog so dense that it quickly obscured him entirely, leaving poor Risher alone on stage at the play's dramatic climax, pleading with a dread, menacing specter the audience simply could not see.
Technical glitches can be fixed, and perhaps with opening night out of the way the cast will give more confident performances during the rest of the run.
God bless them, every one. —Dan Conover