I’ll admit it:
Sitting down at the Great American Playhouse on opening night, I wasn’t expecting much but a goof on “A Christmas Carol.”
It was a safe assumption: The young (this is only its second production) company does melodrama. You expect to laugh, cheer and boo.
You don’t expect to be moved.
Which is exactly what happened with GAP’s production.
“A Christmas Carol” has become almost a holiday cliché, with grumpy Scrooge spewing “Bah humbug,” Tiny Tim hobbling along, Bob Cratchit enduring Scrooge’s scroogey ways.
But GAP treated the play, based on Charles Dickens’ novella and adapted and directed by Nick Seivert, with a respect and tenderness.
Oh, sure, there were some funny asides. And uneven acting. But more than anything, it was loaded with heart and beautiful (and unexpected) music.
So when Sean MacArthur as Scrooge finally sees the light, courtesy of a trio of ghosts, the audience gets that this is a play not about a guy who’s a stingy grump, but one about the importance of generosity, humanity and compassion.
Seivert’s direction had a fluidity to it — and his turn as Marley, the ghost who sets Scrooge’s awakening in gear, was a bit nutsy and very funny.
Nine-year-old Bailey Axen has a serene smile and a gentle demeanor, making him the perfect Tiny Tim.
The whole cast — MacArthur, Seivert and Axen were joined by Jesus Limon, James Gooden, Brian Paradis, Hannah Salisbury, April Lissette, Jacinda Rose Swinehart and Jodi Darling — pulled together to give a show that celebrates the time of year without being cloying about it. Plus, there are some powerhouse singers in that group.
The music was sublime. Rather than reworking rock ‘n’ roll songs, music director Mike Padilla and the director borrowed from, among others, the Muppets. The song “It Feels Like Christmas” — “A cup of kindness that we share with another/ A sweet reunion with a friend or a brother / In all the places you find love it feels like Christmas” — should just be a standard.
The after-show olio had a few bad jokes and lots of really ugly holiday sweaters. And a deliberately laughable rendition of Elvis. It was as though all the silliness that normally goes into the main production was saved for the short after-show song fest.
There’s plenty of holiday cheer being spread around right now, but none that has the heart and the truth of Great American Playhouse’s “A Christmas Carol.”