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Top to bottom, the cast of Theatre in the Park’s 31st annual presentation of TIP founder and executive director Ira David Wood III’s zany musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens may well be the strongest ever. As usual, Wood keeps the audience in stitches with his sour-faced, slump-shouldered, rubbery-legged performance as misanthropic old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, whose miraculous Christmas Eve conversion ranks among the most remarkable overnight transformations of all time. Wood’s surly Bah Humbug! humor and patented pratfalls once again leave TIP audiences laughing through their tears.
This year, the script and David Wood’s directorial rein seem tighter; the spectacular new scenery designed by Mark Pirolo for the show’s 30th-anniversary production last year seems even more magnificent in its detailed multilevel recreation of the streets and homes of Victorian London, circa 1843; the dance routines devised by choreographer Matthew-Jason Willis seem even more dynamic, with the Chimney Sweeps and the Marlettes really kicking up their heels; and the score seems to have a special sparkle, thanks to the zesty instrumental accompaniment by musical director Diane Petteway and a peppy pit band that really knows how to rock and roll.
Costume designer Rita Riggs, who dresses Scrooge and his long-dead partner in greed Jacob Marley, and costumers Carson Mather and Shawn Stewart-Larson provide a dazzling array of authentic 19th century fashions for the large and talented cast; and the backstage contributions of technical director Tim Ruffin, scenic technical director Stephen J. Larson, scenic artist Carol Winstead Wood, lighting designer Thomas Mauney, and sound designer Jonathan Parke also help make A Christmas Carol one of the most elaborate — if not the most elaborate — home-grown musical spectacular staged by a community theater in this or any other state.
North Carolina Theatre regular Vinny Genna is delightful in the trimmed-down role of the Lamplighter who narrates the play’s events; David Moore and vocal coach Susan Durham-Lozaw charmingly reprise their roles as Bob Cratchit and wife; Matthew-Jason Willis and Jennifer Rowell tug at the audience’s heartstrings as they play the star-crossed lovers Young Scrooge and Laura in the show’s poignant dream ballet; and John Arthur Greene and Meredith Jones perform the roles of Scrooge’s nephew Fred and his wife with special gusto this year.
David Henderson is, as always, an absolute hoot as Jacob Marley. Sydney ter Avest, John Shearer, and Mike Raab add crisp characterizations of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, respectively; and little Gracie Goetz and Gray Renfrow share the role of Tiny Tim.
Despite some judicious pruning, A Christmas Carol is still at least a half-hour too long — it runs almost three hours, including intermission — not that the paying customers were complaining Saturday afternoon. Now entering its fourth decade, this uproarious musical version of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas story is still a theatrical juggernaut. It is still packing Raleigh Memorial Auditorium each year with three generations of Triangle theatergoers eager to witness the outrageous antics of David Wood as Scrooge and the shenanigans of an all-star supporting cast, which seems to get stronger each year.
Theatre in the Park presents A Christmas Carol Tuesday-Wednesday, Dec. 13-14, at 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $12-$60. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-60602. Theatre in the Park: http://theatreinthepark.com/. University of Virginia (e-text of A Christmas Carol): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DicChri.html.