‘A Christmas Carol’ at Zach Theatre is a party for the soul

Chanel in the role of Christmas Present. Photo by Kirk Tuck.
From the opening rendition of the Motown classic What Christmas Means to Me, to the jubilant gospel of Joy to the World, Zach theatre’s musical version of A Christmas Carol is a party for the soul.

A few years ago, Dave Steakley, Zach’s artistic director, had the idea to add contemporary music to the 19th Century tale of a miser who pursues personal wealth at the expense of his fellow man. The cautionary message retains its impact, but this production is lively, colorful and fun. The actors have mined the text for comedic gold and Christa Oliver’s hip-hop-influenced dance numbers make you want to get out of your seat.

Songs in A Christmas Carol are not sung so much as embodied. The performers give form and color to sentiments that most of us never notice when we hear these same lyrics through our stereos. 

When Roderick Sanford as Jacob Marley rises from the floor singing For the Love of Money, it’s like the songwriters had this cautionary story in mind. When Bell releases young Ebenezer from his promise, Sidney Scott’s haunting interpretation transforms I Wanna Dance With Somebody from a disco hit to a manifesto of a heart left wanting.

Although this is the fourth time Zach has mounted the production, Steakley has managed to keep many of his principal players on board, including some African Americans who take on multiple roles. Roderick Sanford again brings down the house as Jacob Marley/Mr. Fezziwig. Chanel (a former member of the 90s girl gospel trio Trin-i-tee 5:7) continues as the wise-cracking and beautiful Ghost of Christmas Present/Mrs.Gilchrist. Kenny Williams returns in hilarious form as the Ghost of Christmas Past and the more somber Charitable Gentlemen One. 

Other featured African American performers are Zach veterans, Michelle Alexander as Mrs. Crachit/Mrs. Fezziwig, and Vincent J. Hooper in the roles of Topper/Charitable Gentlemen Two.

In the name of full disclosure I confess I’ve seen the show every year and every year changes in song selection and staging make it seem like a new show. 

Bob Lavalee’s timepiece inspired set continues to appear prescient and foreboding with it’s layering of clocks and furniture that seems to fly. The rotating set pieces, uses of rising floors and trap doors add to the illusion of magic this ghost story commands, as does the lighting by Sarah EC Maines and sound by Craig Brock. 

If you are looking for a fun, joyous celebration of the holiday season, you can’t do better than Zach Theatre’s A Christmas Carol.

 The play continues at Zach’s Topfer Theatre through Dec. 31. Tickets are available online

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