Of the myriad of adaptations and re-envisioned versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, fledgling Desoto-based group Crossover Arts Theatre chose to produce D.M. Larson's Ebony Scrooge, subtitled "A Modern Musical," as its holiday show. A "free" script, which might appeal to a start-up group on a tight budget, it lacks the depth of thought, character development or poetry of the original and offers a confusing, thematically conflicted resolution. It feels designed to function as a junior high-level youth theater end-of-semester school project. Kathi Baker's director's note in the program says the production's intent is to "inspire our youth to achieve dreams through theatre." Thanks to the show's music and dance (music direction by Jonathan Raveneau and choreography by Junene K) it succeeds in that aspect.
In all versions, Scrooge is consumed with greed, a major character flaw. All he (here, a female restaurateur named "Ebony," played by Ariana Cook) cares about is acquiring and hoarding money. After she has her eyes opened to the error of her ways and becomes an altruistic person, Ebony throws a Christmas party where she surprisingly gifts the children present with…money. What message does that send to youth audience members? Seems conflicted and a poor plot choice at best, not well aligned with the poignant, moving message of the original.
The acting ensemble, composed primarily of high school students and local theater enthusiasts, performs with admirable energy and best intentions, as befitting a youth/community theater production. Jamal Sterling (John Cratchet) has a promising, professional resume (and I've seen him perform well), but Larson's limited script gives him little chance to act. Experienced actor Dennis Raveneau makes a promising entrance as Ebony's deceased partner "Marcus Jacobs", but the annoying, scraping clank made by the chains he drags behind him mask his voice and detract from, rather than enhance, his "ghostly" presence. Direction serves to unify a play's actions, defines its beats and drives the relationship arcs in a script. Not much material for a director to work with here, as stated— and what I saw was basic scene blocking, not direction. Video clips intended to illustrate a scene from Ebony's "Christmas past" malfunctioned on opening night.
Why go to this production? For the dance and the music. Dancers step gracefully out of the acting ensemble to perform contemporary choreography to three Christmas classics ("Carol of the Bells," "What Child Is This," "O Come, O Come Emmanuel") with haunting elegance and expressive dynamic, courtesy of Junene K's choreography. The dance numbers don't necessarily carry the story forward, but they help create a mood the script lacks. Jazz violinist/performance artist/composer Jonathan Raveneau arranged the music and performance tracks for 12 songs scattered throughout the performance, including traditional works and an original composition. He directed the choral ensemble and solos. The voices blend exquisitely with pleasing harmonies. Solos by Bryan Banks, LaDarius Walker and Desiree Green are dignified and effective. At the play's conclusion on opening, Raveneau gave a short performance combining jazz violin, keyboards and vocals, a teaser for his upcoming jazz concert at the Corner Theatre January 4-6, 2013. His short set was a real blessing for us, every one.
◊ Here's a taste of Jonathan Raveneau 's musical talent: "Burned"