Thirty-five years ago, Alleyway Theatre Executive Director Neal Radice produced Alleyway’s very first telling of the tale of A Christmas Carol. On Friday night, before the thirty-fifth consecutive opening of this classic, Mayor Brown sent a proclamation that was presented to Mr. Radice declaring December 7th through the 23rd to be “A Christmas Carol at Alleyway Theatre Days” in Buffalo. More than 100,000 people have seen the show, which is said to be the longest running in the area – if not on the planet. Wow! Congratulations to everyone at Alleyway. And best wishes for at least another 35 years.
And how is the show, you might ask. The show is delightful and charming and sad and funny and heartwarming.
The transformation of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge is at the heart of A Christmas Carol. David C. Mitchell gives a fine-tuned performance as that old skinflint. He growls and grumps and humbugs. His demeanor is closed-down, angry, disappointed, and nasty. There is no doubting that he will not tolerate any kind or compassionate feeling. He is miserly in his speech patterns and movements. Mr. Mitchell cowers in terror of the spirits and the insistent voices that remind him of his miserable past. His Scrooge gives nothing away – until he does, of course. His gradual metamorphosis is a pleasure to watch, as when he looks longingly at his nephew and friends playing games and laughing, or in horror at the future he is creating. You can feel his desire to be a part of life again, and his fear that he will not have that opportunity. When he wakes up and realizes that he is still alive and that it is Christmas, his joy is so real, innocent, and heartfelt that the audience cannot help but share in it with him. A terrific performance.
Carolers entertain before the show with Victorian carols and encourage the audience to chime in during the more familiar tunes. We were all quite wonderful singing Jingle Bells, if I do say so myself. Then, presto! The Carolers become characters on the stage as the show begins. We are transported to 1843 London, where Dickens himself-in the person of James Cichocki-begins narrating the familiar but never outdated tale.
The ensemble cast handle their various parts with enthusiasm and flair: Michelle Holden’s farcical delivery of the bustling Mrs. Fezziwig, and the lovely but dim-witted Celia; Roger VanDette’s jolly rendering of Fezziwig and the Ghost of Christmas Present; Joyce Stilson’s lovely and compassionate Christmas Past in her flowing white gown; Jerry Hudson, the long suffering, but always kind Bob Cratchitt; Emily Yancey’s lovely and sad Belle, and quite snarky, spoiled Ernestine; David G. Poole’s sad and sorry Marley, and the cunning fence Old Joe; James Cichocki’s good-hearted Fred; and the children – Shawn Calmes, Allison Barsi, and Jack Flammer as Tiny Tim. Most played roles in addition to those mentioned. They buzzed around, changing costumes and personas in a wink.
Direction, sets, and lighting are by Neal Radice, with additional direction, costumes and properties by Joyce Stilson. The dim lighting in Scrooge’s office and bedroom underscore the gloominess of his existence. You can almost feel the cold and the harshness of his existence. The bed with a mind of its own, London fog, and Ghost appearances add to the drama of the production and offer some surprises for the audience.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes of theatre. Be sure to get there early for the caroling. Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone!