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Friday, December 08, 2017

Mankind Was My Business

Where Was I? Dept.: Looking back thirty years, I was reviewing my butt off. Here’s one example, one of the many productions of this piece I’ve seen, which doesn’t count the productions I’ve been in, including several teen years playing Marley’s Ghost, lifting my characterization wholesale from Michael Hordern. Matt Kamprath made a career out of playing Scrooge – the accompanying photo is very recent.


THE NEBRASKA THEATRE CARAVAN’S highly literate version of “A Christmas Carol” filled the house at Proctor’s Theatre Thursday night as the saga of stingy Scrooge was given a Currier & Ives look and a top-notch performance.

Matt Kamprath as Scrooge and Sarah Kloster as the
Ghost of Christmas Past | Photo by Christian Robertson
Charles Jones’s adaptation made generous use of the Dickens original as we moved from street to countinghouse to bedchamber; the familiar lines of the opening narrative were given to some of the merchants of the town even as they set a holiday mood with traditional songs of the season, songs like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Wassail.”

The few pieces of set turned or were flown to create scene after scene; combined with authentically detailed costumes and an imaginative lighting design, there was a film-like feel to the flow of action, very appropriate to this dreamlike story.

Matt Kamprath played Scrooge with a good portion of wit sprinkled over the nastiness, enough to make us believe that the man truly was redeemable. Short of stature, with a nasal Lionel Barrymore voice, he pranced around in nightshirt and cap with the energy of a dozen Gilbert & Sullivan patter song men.

Marley’s ghost, on the other hand, was a cross between Peter O’Toole and Nosferatu. W. Clyde Cash burst from a curtain of smoke with the regulation chains and cashbox for a scene that had the kid in front of me hugging the seat in terror.

All of the major performers were very strong, very convincing, even managing to pull off good suggestions of English dialect. The temptation to overplay crept into some of the character roles, which unfortunately is completely distracting. The pair of gents who solicit a donation from Scrooge at the play’s beginning, for example, went off the deep end with affectation. Similarly, a young man playing the part of a dancing beggar did so with the annoying floppy-jointed manner of a street mime, chewing gaping holes in the scenery as the rest of the cast struggled to accommodate him.

Dramatically, the show weakened in the second half as the many personal relationships described in the novel gave way to a quick tour of the plot. Scrooge’s redemption, however, was lingered over, expanded upon, giving us detail where imagination for so long has sufficed. In Dickens’ world it was enough that the people should survive and endure; in this version, Scrooge goes so far as to offer paid surgery to Tiny Tim, a touching but unnecessary piece of betterment, peculiar to our TV-era way of thinking. Dickens would never dream of wallowing so in the pay-off.

A small ensemble in the pit provided superbly-played music, and the chorus was impressively trained, singing wonderful harmony on “Good Christian Men,” “Susanni,” and many other vintage carols.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, adapted by Charles Jones from the novel by Charles Dickens. Directed by Carl Beck. Musical arrangements by John J. Bennett. Musical direction by Jonathan Cole. Scenery and lighting design by James Othuse. Choreography by Joanne Cady. Costume design by Tom Crisp and Kathryn Wilson. Performed at Proctor’s Theatre, Schenectady.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 18 December 1987

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