BWW Reviews: Stellar Casting Highlights Studio Tenn's Revival of A CHRISTMAS CAROL
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by Jeffrey Ellis
Nashville actor Chip Arnold-who boasts a resume that others covet-so completely becomes Ebenezer Scrooge in Studio Tenn's inventive yet reverent production of A Christmas Carol that you might completely forget his prior onstage triumphs. With a booming voice and commanding demeanor, Arnold creates a Scrooge that hews closely to the character written by Charles Dickens, imbuing him with such color and shading as to create a man even more intriguing than the literary character we've always known.
Restaging Studio Tenn's A Christmas Carol for the company's new home at the lavishly restored historic Franklin Theatre, director/designer Matt Logan manages to give new and invigorated life to the time-honored tale while interpreting it in a manner that is tremendously appealing and accessible, adding an almost cinematic flow to the proceedings. A revival of Studio Tenn's 2010 A Christmas Carol, Logan's staging is altered somewhat to accommodate the confines of the new venue, as well as to capitalize on the strengths of his cast, which includes an artful blending of new and returning players.
Further, this revival of Studio Tenn's A Christmas Carol-featuring an original adaptation by Paula Y. Flautt-proves that the company has found the perfect holiday season offering that may become a local tradition, one that audiences will flock to year after year. Flautt's script is streamlined to make it accessible for audiences and it effectively captures a seasonal spirit that never fails to warm the heart.
Logan's staging focuses on the ghostly, somewhat frightening, aspects of the story which is presented with a certain melodramatic Victorian fervor that works beautifully in capturing the attention of every audience member, drawing them into the tale. Though often told and an enduring part of our Christmas literary heritage, Studio Tenn's A Christmas Carol seems a fresh take on the story of Scrooge and company.
Logan's set, which is beautiful in its simplicity, provides the perfect playing space for the production and allows for the nearly constant flow of movement that makes A Christmas Carol such a pleasure to watch. With cast members clad in his gorgeous costumes (the jewel tones of the fabrics are exquisite), there is a sumptuousness to the production that epitomizes Logan's theatrical wizardry.
Featuring a lush musical score performed with exemplary professionalism by conductor Nathan Burbank and the four members of his orchestra, A Christmas Carol is augmented by the inclusion of the music, which offers arrangements of Mozart classics and new compositions by Burbank himself, as well as traditional songs of the season. The production's musical underscoring adds to the already cinematic flavor and feel that permeates the production with an easy elegance.
Arnold's Scrooge is joined onstage by a veritable who's who of Nashville theater, including his sister Nan Gurley (who's certainly no slouch in the resume department herself), consummate character actor Brian Webb Russell (steadfastly committed to each of his roles, but whose Jacob Marley is most memorable), musical theater standout Ciaran McCarthy (one of the most versatile actors to be found, returning from his home base in California to take on the roles of Nephew Fred and young Ebenezer), Studio Tenn leading lady Ellie Sikes (as Belle, the object of young Ebenezer's affections) and Emily Landham (whose acclaimed 2011 roles have included Juliet in Nashville Shakespeare Festival's Romeo and Juliet and Ann Deaver in Tennessee Rep's All My Sons).
But they are just a few of the exceptional actors taking to the stage under Logan's guidance. While his direction of the piece is clearly laudable and worthy of every praise that will be heaped upon him by critics and audiences alike, his most winning skill may very well be his ability to cast the finest actors to be found in the region. Brent Maddox (who co-starred with Gurley and Sikes in Studio Tenn's The Glass Menagerie) is warmly fraternal as Bob Cratchit, and he plays opposite the luminous Kim Bretton (with whom he played Vincent Van Gogh to her Ursula Loyer in Actors Bridge's Vincent in Brixton, Nashville theater's best play of 2010). Bretton's ethereal presence lends further credibility to the production and infuses it with a palpable sense of mother love and courage.
Travis Brazil (who showed off his burly, churlish best as Stanley Kowalski in Boiler Room Theatre's A Streetcar Named Desire) is wonderfully bombastic and flamboyant as the Ghost of Christmas Present, displaying his enormous range as an actor. Young MaryKathryn Kopp returns to the role that last year brought her to the attention of local theaterati by playing the Ghost of Christmas Past with a the requisite other-worldly panache and her sure-footed movement. Elisha Chandler proves ominous and foreboding as the Ghost of Christmas Future.
The remainder of Logan's cast prove themselves to be just as committed and just as well-suited to their roles as their more experienced counterparts: Wesley Toledo, fresh from the start of his freshman year of college, plays a variety of roles; Mary Marguerite Hall is a lovely Fan; Vienna Dohler is the sweetly affecting Belinda; and Charlie Webb shows off his own versatility as the boy Scrooge and a Cratchit child. Finally, Herbie Horrocks (the adorable four-year-old son of Bretton) very nearly steals the entire production out from under the rest of the cast with his completely guileless and completely charming Tiny Tim.
- A Christmas Carol. By Charles Dickens. Adapted by Paula Y. Flautt. Directed by Matt Logan. Presented by Studio Tenn, at The Franklin Theatre. Through December 18. For details, go to www.studiotenn.com or www.franklintheatre.com.