Steel River’s ‘A Christmas Carol, The Musical’ Showcases Stellar Singing

Joe Ciresi as Scrooge with Michael Thornton, the Ghost of Christmas Present in Steel River’s ‘A Christmas Carol, The Musical.’

by J.S. Alleva 

Sometimes the more deeply we feel, the less easily we can express ourselves.  This is the case with Ebenezer Scrooge, the crusty curmudgeon who shuts down his heart after losing all he loves. And it was also the case with me and the writing of this review, though my only loss was words. Steel River Playhouse’s A Christmas Carol, The Musical was so awe-inspiring, it exceeded expectations with its radiant joy and abundant talent.  Charles Dickens published his story “A Christmas Carol” in 1843. And in 1994 it was musically adapted by Broadway talents Alan Mencken (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), adding color and depth to Dickens’ timeless characters.  Steel River’s production takes the story to new musical heights, leaving its audience breathless with wonder and delight.  It is the epitome of great theatre, and running through December 17th, it is a festive and joyous experience for the whole family.   

The show begins in the Royal Exchange of London in 1843 where Ebenezer Scrooge, a stingy business man, has become embittered by life and has no patience for those who celebrate the Christmas holiday.  He scoffs at pleas to help the local charity, to have mercy on a hard-working employee, or to accept a dinner invitation from an ever-hopeful nephew. He brushes them all off and returns home alone, glad to be so.  On his doorstep, however, he is greeted by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns Scrooge not to follow in his footsteps and thus bear the heavy chains of regret. Scrooge is then visited by three ghostly apparitions: Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come. Each specter takes Scrooge on a ‘life-review’ which opens his eyes and ultimately his heart.   

Beautifully directed by Michael Licata, this 33-voice ensemble shows remarkable versatility and astounding vocal talent.  Under the Musical Direction of Julie Eurillo, each voice is clearly heard, and the harmonies are rich and resonant.  The orchestra, conducted by Barbara Newberry, is solid and balanced, complementing the vocals in full-cast numbers as well as the softer solos and duets.  Choreography by Rex Henriques is varied and creative throughout, with bits of synchronized shoveling, ballroom-swirling, chain wielding and even some 20s-style tap.   

If you can pull your eyes away from the downstage action during scenes from Scrooge’s past, you’ll catch Ebenezer’s subtle transformation as he watches from above. He is touched by the memories, delighting in the joys of his early life, and shows the humanness of a man who has lost much through the years.   

Scrooge is played with very human grumpiness by Joe Ciresi. His rich baritone and theatrical range take us on a journey of emotions through grief, disillusionment, impatience, horror, regret, hope and outright glee.   The Ghost of Christmas Past/Lamplighter is played by Amanda Morrell whose lilting soprano touches the heart.  Michael Thornton, the Ghost of Christmas Present/Sandwichboard Man, brings boisterous (and sinister) energy to his roles.  In an interesting turn, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, played by Julie Peterson (who also plays the Blind Hag), is a black-suited masque-wearing young woman, which doesn’t quite have the ‘shiver-factor’ of the Grim Reaper-style figure we’ve come to expect, but the choice is interesting and more emotionally neutral than terrifying. 

Marley is played with blood-curdling bellows by Sebastian Antonio. Mrs. Mops is played by Aileen McCulloch, who is also the cast’s Dialect Coach (to which I say, “Well done!”)  The Cratchits are lovingly portrayed by Robert M. Tilley and Amanda Grace Wetzel, more standout voices.  Mason Keith is angelically sweet (and truly tiny!) as Tiny Tim, activating many a maternal instinct.  

Ryan Simme is wonderful as Young Ebenezer/Fred, joined by Emma Muller as Emily/Sally.  The two have wonderful chemistry.  The energy spikes when Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, played joyously to the hilt by Doug Pratt and Katie Clements., enter the scene.  Young Scrooge/Fred’s Son is played by Tom Pederson, and Scrooge’s sister Fan is played by Jordan McAndrew. The two voices share one of the most touching songs of the show, “A Place Called Home.”  

Mr. Smythe (Evan Sykes), Jonathon (Daniel Schlegel), the Cratchit children (Payton Fritz, Anna Grace Howell and Luke Eurillo), and Grace Smythe (Kaleena Vontor), along with Ensemble members Scott Troutman, Tim Novak, Charles Delaney, Courtney Harris (Dance Captain), Julianna Roseo, Jason Scansaroli, Stephen Eurillo, Lionel McCulloch, Natalie Brown, Mackenzie Keith, Layla Brown and Shannon Tilley round out this talented cast.  

Stage Managed by Anna Taylor, assisted by Keith Sene, the stage crew is top-notch. Their lightning-quick set changes make this the professional, seamless production that it is.  

The live orchestra, tucked away in the backstage loft, is comprised of Barbara Newberry (conductor), Laura Burhans, Steve Carrasco, Lisa Gilmer, Sarah Fralich, Karri Giamporcaro, Michael Smith, Scott Porecea, Donna Higgins, Jake Sholly, Kim Newell and Aaron Gould 

Set Design by Chris Kleckner allows the large cast to utilize the full theatre space. Bare metal pipe scaffolding and wooden platforms brushed in burgundy and black create the framework, and a few well-chosen set pieces evoke old England, including a large glowing town clock, a multipurpose fireplace/doorway and just enough furniture to set the scenes from London streets to interior parties: a single faded burgundy arm chair, a small side table, a lamp, a goblet.  Scrooge’s sub-sized bed spins on smooth casters adding movement and drama to the ‘haunting’ scenes.   

Ally Boughter’s Costume Design brings Dickens’ world to vibrant life, from dignified bankers’ garb, to flowing ball gowns, to bonnets, dapper vests, and caps, with brilliant Properties Design by MJ Stone.  Bringing it all together with Hair and Makeup Design are Christopher Longeway and Sam Rhame. Longeway’s specialties in wigs and period hair design are key, and Rhame’s background in Cosmetology help the cast shine with a natural glow.  

Lighting Design by Jerry Jonas helps create the many moods of 1840’s London, from the subdued, gloomy air of the streets to the bright and festive parties to spot lighting on key scenes.  Sound Design by Mark Evers is subtle and appreciated.  The sound effects and vocals are well-balanced throughout, no easy feat with such a large cast.  

This production is stunning from the start, with an incredibly talented ensemble cast, clear direction, genuine warmth, and a cast and crew that show true dedication to excellence in theatre.  If you liked reading the classic story (or enjoyed the TV movie), you will absolutely LOVE this musical adaptation.  It shows us the redemptive power of loving kindness, and reminds us that even the most darkened of souls can become light-hearted once more.  This holiday, let your spirit be lifted and share this spectacular show with family and friends you love, and maybe a curmudgeon or two.  

Remaining show dates:  December 8, 9, 14, 15, 16 @ 8pm, and December 9, 10, 16 & 17 @ 2pm

The show is performed in two Acts and runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Refreshments are available in the lobby.  Important note: a fog machine is used during the show. 

For more info on this run of A Christmas Carol: The Musical,  contact: 

Steel River Playhouse
245 East High Street
Pottstown, PA 19464
Tel: 610-970-1199
Email: info@steelriver.org
Website: www.steelriver.org