November 21, 2018 Radomir Vojtech Luza

Review of The Group Repertory Theatre’s Production of A CAROL CHRISTMAS

If you are interested in a new musical version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” run do not walk to The Group Repertory Theatre’s World Premiere production of “A Carol Christmas,” book
by Doug Haverty, music
and lyrics by Bruce Kimmel, at The Lonny Chapman Theatre, running through December 30th in the North Hollywood Arts District.
This adaptation of the Dickens classic, set in today’s America, features a woman named Carol, the brains and beauty behind a home shopping network show, who does not like Christmas and
wants her staff to work through the holidays.

“A Carol Christmas” features women in the lead roles of Marley, Cratchit, Fred and Tiny Tim and 17 brand new songs.
The writing by Haverty is the baseline to this play and underscores a new holiday update that could easily be playing on Broadway instead of Burbank Boulevard.
The language is gripping, touching, insatiable and insightful and gives us, the audience, a glimpse into how a successful, demanding and overworked businesswoman can get so overly engrossed in
her job that she not
only gives up on, but begins to despise the true beauty, charm and purpose of Christmas.
This libretto is so much more than your average book.  It is the narrative structure, the thinking, the big picture that the actors enter into and sing.
Being the most dramatically important element of a musical, Haverty’s libretto is the glue that keeps the songs from being disjointed.
It works perfectly in concert with Kimmel’s timeless music and lyrics.
The music and lyrics are the touchstone of this musical.  They are deeply significant for their personal and civic relevance.
Forever etched in this critic’s heart and soul, Kimmel’s notes and words will one day be the yardstick by which all yuletide musicals are judged.
They are not only staggeringly meaningful, but pure and true in their mission and voice.
Kimmel, the director, brings a depth to this lush valley, a cotton candy sky to this sunrise and a silent power to this swan white mountain range.
The writer, director and star of the cult movie hit, “The First Nudie Musical” allows each actor to be him or herself while getting the best work out of them with finesse and love.
The co-creator of the film, “The Faculty,” directed by Robert Rodriguez, seems to understand that Christmas in its raw and naked sacredness and duty to God rises above any small human
weaknesses, tragedies and
troubles to a yearly shredding of ego, pomp and circumstance in order to find the emotion, wisdom and humanity that bring us all together as a people, world and universe.
Two examples are the musical numbers, “Separate Ways” sung soulfully by John Schroeder (Blake) and “Little Miracles” sung beautifully by Savannah Schoenecker (Blythe/Ensemble) and Peyton
Kirkner (Trina) which
capture the sun, moon and everything underneath them.
The orchestration by musical director Richard Allen is daunting in its faith in mankind and spirit and electricity in turning every day into Christmas.
Allen, who has orchestrated for and conducted both The London Symphony and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestras in a CD of Sherman Brothers music, gets the ungettable: that Christmas
transcends any mere
human trappings and captures hopes, dreams and aspirations almost ethereal in nature.
Kay Cole’s choreography is staunch, nimble and full of grace and feeling.
The director and choreographer of the film, “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” seems to let the actors add their own input and imagination into the dance sequences, numbers and steps only
making them that much
more real, defined and sensitive to the music.
The best examples of this are Lloyd Pedersen’s (Pearlman/Mr. Forrester/Mr. Death) musical number, “Shuffle Off this Mortal Coil” by Mr. Death and the Death-ettes and Janet Wood’s
(Joelle/Karina/Featured Ensemble)
equally hilarious and unique number “Owaska Tea” sung by the Russian Shaman Karina.
Kimmel assembles a gifted group of actors who comprehend the achingly powerful nature of the words, lyrics and music and prove it throughout the 90 minute evening.
Stand outs include:
Hartley Powers (Carol) who gives a deeply convincing turn as the host of the shopping network show.
Powers, who has been performing since she was 11-months-old, and was Hermia in The Group Repertory’s production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” shines here with
vocal power and stage
presence galore.  The show revolves around her and the veteran thespian is up to the challenge.
In scene after scene, she makes the actors around her better as she concurrently builds in power.
This is a gem of an actress whose characterization grows and matures as dramatically as the show does.
Yet it is Schoenecker who almost runs away with the play by giving us, the audience, a deeply felt portrayal the kind of which this critic has not seen in a long time.
As rich as midnight soil and black oil, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts graduate’s singing chops and heartfelt compassion are felt throughout the proceedings.
One only hopes that the Shakespearean actress (GRT’s “Romeo and Juliet”) spreads her wings even further in the future.
Here she is a ten carat diamond attracting attention to her talent in every possible moment.
But stealing the show is Kirkner, who in making her GRT debut, proves that youngsters can sparkle on stage as much, if not more, than adults.
The eighth-grader in the Musical Theatre Conservatory at Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, CA, also proves that there is nothing more irresistible or powerful on the boards than
natural talent.
Kirkner’s singing and acting, especially when paired with Schoenecker, who plays her mother, is irrepressible, beautiful and charming.
In some ways, watching this gifted young performer is more than a little miracle.
One only hopes that she will continue to study and perform in this vein.
This critic hopes to see Kirkner on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again soon.
Also furthering the message of the musical are Tesshi Nakagawa’s innovative set design, Morgan Gannes’ unique costume design, Austin Quan’s sound design and Sabrina Beattie’s lighting design.
In the end, “A Carol Christmas” succeeds because of, not despite, its new, modern, feminized version in this age of #Me Too.
When women, especially young ones, prove that they can play men’s roles as well as, if not better, than the men who originally played them, maybe it is time that we realize that we are
living in a new and different world.
Women are not only beginning to get paid equally for their labor, but now are earning and landing jobs and roles they never have in the past.
Yes, it is still a man’s world, but watch out boys, the girls are gaining on you quickly.
This show, this musical feast, then, may be one of the steepest, if not the steepest, undertakings in The Group Repertory’s history, and that is quite a long one.
The writer, lyricist/director, musical director, choreographer, actors and crew that put this piece together are nothing less than magical in their creativity, wry sense of humor and fluid energy.
The show gives us, the audience, hope for a better day and world in this nuclear age of mass shootings and global warming.
It proves that musical theatre is not fluff, but a powerful and necessary form of art, entertainment and communication equal to its brother drama.
In following its muse, moment and masters, this show never swerved from doing what many do not: achieving both artistic and commercial success from the looks of the packed theatre on
opening night.
The fact that The Group Repertory may have a hit on its hands is due more than anything to the decision made by co-artistic directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield when they took over to
take The Group
Repertory on a swift and straight journey from producing and staging community theatre fare to reflective, meaningful and important work.
This brilliant chess move has yet to backfire, and once more hits platinum pay dirt here as it puts the ensemble on track to what could be an award-winning 2019.
If Christmas and its profound social, moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual impact over the years matters to you, and it should, then this is the show for you and your family to see.
Without one reference to Santa Claus, this neon night never deviates or bends from its intended task of breaking down barriers, taking bold risks and opening eyes to a fresh tomorrow that not only
aids in understanding
Christmas, but the human race.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Theatre, Film and Book Critic
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM,
Sundays at 2:00 PM
No show on Friday, 11/23
Additional matinee, 11/24 at 2:00 PM
Talk-backs on 11/25 and 12/9
General Admission (Ages 5+): $25.00
Seniors/Students with ID: $20.00
Groups 10+: $15.00
Information/Reservations: (818) 763-5990
WHERE: The Group Repertory Theatre at Lonny Chapman Theatre:
10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601

Get in touch Radomir!