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Thursday, February 20, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJoAnn Wilchek Basist (Carole Scrooge), left, Sharon Lee Glassman (Marley’s Ghost), right, Civic Theatre of Allentown’s “A Christmas Carole 1944,” through Dec. 21, Nineteenth Street Theatre, Allentown. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJoAnn Wilchek Basist (Carole Scrooge), left, Sharon Lee Glassman (Marley’s Ghost), right, Civic Theatre of Allentown’s “A Christmas Carole 1944,” through Dec. 21, Nineteenth Street Theatre, Allentown.

Theater Review: Civic successfully revisits revised classic ‘Carole’

Thursday, December 12, 2019 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus

Civic Theatre of Allentown’s holiday show, “A Christmas Carole 1944,” through Dec. 21, Nineteenth Street Theatre, Allentown, is a refreshing departure from traditional productions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

The good thing is that nothing is lost in this stylish adaptation. Scrooge is just as miserly and mean, spouting, “Bah, Humbug!” at every opportunity.

Only “He” is a “She,” living in a high-rise apartment in New York City, the country is at war, and in place of workhouses there are taxes, welfare and FDR.

Written by Civic Theatre Artistic Director William Sanders and Sharon Lee Glassman, immediate past president Civic’s board of directors, the script maintains the spirit of Dickens’ original 1843 novella, while providing new perspectives that are relevant today. The show, directed and choreographed by Sanders, is resplendent on all counts.

The casting of JoAnn Wilchek Basist as Carole Scrooge provides a sophisticated aspect to the proceedings. Basist, as the Christmas-hating, entrepreneurial owner of a perfume empire, has just the right lack of compassion at the start, while transforming believably into the holiday-hugging character without overdoing things.

There also are new twists on the spirit front. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Alexa McFillin) is a vivacious flapper whose vocal delivery is not unlike Lina Lamont in “Singing in the Rain.” McFillin is very appealing, especially when traveling under the large umbrella she uses to visit the sites of Scrooge’s childhood and early adulthood.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is also played by a woman (Jadyn Lynah) and she is as captivating and forceful as any male actor who has played the part. Despite her pleasant demeanor and vibrant red dress, she reveals a disturbing reality in the person of two emaciated children, Ignorance and Want.

In an interesting juxtaposition, the Ghost of the Future (Max Wetherhold) is costumed with a tangible reminder of the horrors of past wars. The effect adds to the eeriness of the cemetery.

Though updated to the 20th Century, Sanders has maintained his preference for large, no, immense, casts. During the Dec. 7 performance seen for this review, there were 53 named characters, including nine children of Scrooge’s first employer Mr. Fedderman (Robert Wallace), and the six offspring of Bob Cratchit (Eric Wilburn). There were 74 other roles from Salvation Army Band and Ensemble to Party Kids and Dead End Kids, with some of the same actors playing dual roles. Each added his or her own special touch to the production.

Updating has given Sanders and his accomplished technical staff opportunities for new techniques. Will Morris’ lighting design and Sam Roff’s scenic design are examples. A backlit scrim upstage center serves cleverly as an elevator to Scrooge’s apartment. “Movement” of the elevator is accomplished by raising and lowering set pieces that frame the stationary space. Marley’s Ghost (Sharon Lee Glassman) uses the elevator effectively in her first appearance. “I always liked a good entrance,” she jokes.

Lighting is intricate, with the simple set often joyfully bathed in red or green, or turned to a somber blue. Every mood is captured.

Civic Theatre has staged “A Christmas Carol” for the past 30 years. Twenty years ago, Sanders did a rewrite of the classic, and this year he decided to revisit it. In the play’s program “Director’s Notes,” he states, “The script has been completely overhauled and seems more romantic now.” It is hard to argue with that.

Tickets: Civic Theater of Allentown box office, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 19th Street Theatre, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943