Dallas — The Dallas Theater Center continues its tradition of a warm, exuberant A Christmas Carol. This year’s production features Brad Leland, familiar to many for his role as the football coach in NBC’s Friday Night Lights, as Ebenezer Scrooge in all his incarnations. In his nightcap and gown, Leland moves easily and convincingly from onlooker to player, becoming a tight-fisted old miser, a lonely motherless child, and an ambitious young entrepreneur too busy to court the love of his life.
DTC Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty’s 90-minute adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic tale remains tightly focused on the evolution of Scrooge from a penny-pinching businessman running a darkly ominous factory (Beowulf Borritt’s smoke-belching set design) oblivious to the collapse of his workers, to a jubilant moral rebirth through a series of supernatural events on Christmas eve. This year the production was directed by Lee Trull, who has since been fired for inappropriate behavior.
Dickens’ novella is subtitled “A Ghost Story of Christmas,” and the chain-rattling ghost of Scrooge’s former business partner, Jacob Marley (a madly desperate Will Power) starts the action off with a knocking at the door. Marley’s ghastly white face shows Scrooge the horrors of what is to come if he continues his greedy, inhuman treatment of his fellow man. Power and Leland are both big men, and when Marley nearly drags Scrooge down with the huge chains he’s forged in life, the sense of catastrophic karma is even scarier than the grappling ghosts.
Many other members of DTC’s Brierley Resident Company assume roles in the 20-member ensemble. Chamblee Ferguson is a humble, endearing Bob Cratchit, and Liz Mikel is his loving, feisty wife, not all that thrilled to drink a toast to her husband’s stingy boss. Tiana Kaye Johnson is Scrooge’s cagey housekeeper and a flirty Mrs. Fezziwig. Alex Organ is Scrooge’s handsome and affable nephew Fred, bringing a romantic vigor to the engagement scene his uncle interrupts. Ace Anderson is Fred’s sarcastic friend Topper, and a quaking fundraiser seeking money for the poor from the famous tightwad.
Beautiful Beth Lipton portrays the Ghost of Christmas Past as Scrooge’s long-dead mother, singing like an angel and accompanying herself on violin.
Throughout the show, the actors sing traditional songs and familiar Christmas carols, while providing their own sound effects. Music director Vonda K. Bowling can be heard offstage playing keyboards, but the actors play drums, guitar, tambourines, bells and cymbals as they sing and dance. The foot-stomping on the lifted wooden stage vibrates through the theater, adding a natural, festive rhythm to the yuletide celebrations at Fred’s home and the Fezziwig workplace.
Jahi Kearse, a New York-based actor who appeared in DTC’s 2014 production of The Fortress of Solitude, steals the show anytime he’s on the stage, either as an ebullient Mr. Fezziwig dancing a jig or as the Ghost of Christmas Present, played as a kind of gleeful, triumphant street gypsy. When this canny ghost ushers in two children representing ignorance and hunger, Leland’s Scrooge holds his body with his arms in awful recognition, as the children fall forward at his feet and a hovering Kearse watches the suddenly feeble old man’s remorse. This scene is even more dramatic than Scrooge’s glimpse of a future where he himself lies dead in his four-poster, led there by the Ghost of Christmas Future, a pale Tiny Tim with a small crutch (played alternately by Josiah Gamino and Nina Ruby Gameros).
The muted colors of the show project a sense of chilly winter and factory gloom, which contrast happily with the glow of past joys and feasts. Jen Caprio’s period costumes and Jeff Croiter’s lighting design create the mood of each scene, as we move from Marley’s horrific warning to the relief and joy Scrooge feels when he learns Tiny Tim will live and he’s not necessarily dead, himself. Leland's face glows and his pot belly bounces beneath his night shirt, as he skips about the stage declaring himself as helpless and astounded as a newborn babe.
Before the ensemble takes a final bow, a lone electric guitar wails through the theater, and the actors begin gathering for a rapturous surprise finale, to the delight of young and old theater-goers sharing this happy holiday tradition together.