Temple Theatre Hits the Mark With Its Adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol'
Not a Christmas goes by without some new take on one of the best ghost stories ever told. A long-ago nightmare thrust Charles Dickens into a frenzied writing spell that brought the world Ebenezer Scrooge, Old Marley, Fezziwig, Bob Cratchit and, of course, Tiny Tim.
Dickens, who loved acting, often played out the story from his red velvet reading stand in his famous "readings" on tour. The first motion picture take on "A Christmas Carol" was probably a 1901 silent film. Everybody has their favorite movie version. I particularly love the 1951 one with Alastair Sim, but I also greatly like what Jim Henson's Muppets did with it.
Now, I have a new favorite, and it's close at hand. Temple Theatre in Sanford is staging for the first time anywhere a new musical adaptation. I recommend it most heartily -- and I am hard to please when anybody tampers with a classic like "A Christmas Carol."
Too many tinkerers smooth out harsh truths intrinsic to Dickens' haunting Yuletide tale. Too many sentimentalize his story. Disney's latest animated effort, while visually spectacular, seems to lack heart -- rather a significant lack. Of the countless versions to make their way across the boards or over the silver screens, few are memorable.
The story itself is unforgettable, wonderful, an epic of the English language. In this fresh effort now premiering at Sanford's Temple Theatre, adapters Michael Hoagland and Jeff Stockberger have managed the near-impossible: keeping lots and lots of Dickens' original language while enriching a stage version musically with new songs and long-treasured carols. Temple's world premier production of their adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" plays through Dec. 20.
Wait 'til you see what Hoagland's musical direction and Peggy Taphorn's choreography do with "The 12 Days of Christmas" -- that alone is worth a ticket -- or how they handle the grand party at Old Fezziwig's.
Taphorn runs Temple as producing artistic director, and last year found herself facing a huge fiscal crisis when national economic woes hit the theater's donor base. She rallied Lee County supporters and Temple managed to survive. It still needs angels, but the shows go on.
This show, she hopes, is destined to become a seasonal Sanford tradition. If audience reaction is the measure -- and, of course, it is -- Taphorn has little to fear. This "Christmas Carol" is honestly true to Dickens' original, yet transformed into musical form with production numbers that throng the streets of old London with actors, singers and dancers.
A full stage it was, too, with 38 performers playing some 76 characters singing and dancing in Scrooge and Marley's chilly office to past (not long past, Scrooge: your past!) -- present shadows and their fearful futures.
Dickens' characters are like welcome old friends come to call. They differ from visit to visit, embodied as they are by first one actor, then another. Each time, however, there is the moment of recognition as one sees the same familiar soul, whoever plays the part. You won't be disappointed here.
Everybody knows Tiny Tim's blessing by heart. It would be understandable for any fan of the old, old story to hold a little breath in hopes whatever child plays the part won't mess it up. Not to worry, Makani McKenzie handles the famous line with utter perfection. Think of that! She's just eight years old, with a heart-melting clear, high voice and exactly the right look for little Tim.
There are new takes on familiar characters -- no spoilers here -- that both surprise and charm. Watch out for the ghosts.
Some actors are neighbors who've played parts at the Sunrise. One Moore County actor, Randy Rime, is Scrooge. Many of these players are young people brought into the theater world through the organization's Temple Teens, who probably could be called Temple's terrific teens without exaggeration.
Are there flaws? Indeed. This is community theater, with many on the stage just learning their craft. Others play parts for pleasure, and do other things to make their living. Many are still in school. Their English accents don't always match. Sometimes the show's action seems to stop before picking up its pace as if it lost its place on some invisible page. Voices, struggling for character, too frequently screech into falsetto range.
Nobody much minded any of that. The night I saw it, the crowd cheered and cheered Temple's stageful of community actors (there is only one professional in the cast), whistling and bravoing and clapping. They left the old Temple with smiles on their faces and a sprig of holly in every heart.
The production continues through this weekend. Temple Theatre is located at 120 Carthage St., Sanford.
For information, call (919) 774-4155 or visit templeshows.com.
John Chappell may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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