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Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol: Happy slappy

by | Nov 29, 2021 | Review | 0 comments

Christmas Present (Andrew Wheeler) counsels Scrooge (David Adams). (Photo: Moonrider Productions)

Act 1 is weird. Technically, it’s slick, but it’s so aggressively entertaining and relentlessly uplifting that, watching it, I started to feel like I was on a ride in Disneyland — or maybe Dollywood. Are those real people on the stage or are they robots?

In Charles Dickens’s telling, A Christmas Carol is scary: it’s a ghost story. But, in Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol, which is set in Jefferson County, East Tennessee in 1936, there’s little room for genuine darkness — and the adaptation is often flat as a result.

Marley doesn’t appear ghoulishly in Scrooge’s doorknocker, for instance, and, when he does show up, Marley an Irish song-and-dance man. In flashback scenes, the script refers to him as Old Man Marley, but, in this production at least, he’s as energetic as Jiminy Cricket. And, when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come shows Scrooge the aftermath of his own death, we don’t see the bleakness of impoverished women squabbling over Scrooge’s bedclothes, we see the town erupting in a hootenanny.

The breathlessness of director Bobby Garcia’s production exacerbates the sense of emotional impenetrability. Playing Scrooge, David Adams yells all through Act 1.

But … there’s lots to like and the source material is so strong that, even in this adaptation, eventually, it’s moving.

There’s no dismissing Parton’s songs. Sung with open-throated abandon by Chelsea Rose, “Appalachian Snowfall” is a sweeping ballad and “Three Candles” (sung here in sweet harmony by Synthia Yusuf as Scrooge’s sister and Jonathan Winsby as the young Scrooge) is memorably tender.

As they do with the songs, this cast carries off Julio Fuentes’s propulsive — and tricky — choreography with a remarkably consistent level of skill. And Shizuka Kai’s set, with its little locomotive running across the top of the proscenium and traveling backwards when time reverses, is wittily evocative.

Andrew Wheeler’s performance as The Ghost of Christmas Present is bizarrely compelling. When he first appears dressed by costumer Carmen Alatorre as a coal miner, this ghost lurches around like a zombie getting acquainted with his limbs. (I don’t know exactly what’s going on there, but I dig it.) And the ghost’s growling but measured vocal delivery captures some of the threat that’s absent elsewhere: when he warns Ebenezer, “You are rubbin’ me against the grain”, you can’t help but pay attention.

Although I question some of the artistic choices of the adaptation and interpretation, the whole cast is talented and committed. Charlie Gallant, who plays Marley, also becomes Tiny Tim’s loving father, Bob Cratchit. Gallant brings such palpable affection to his character’s relationship with his son — and such credibility to his grief when, in a vision of a possible future, Tim has died — that, witnessing it, I was sucking back sobs.

Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol finds itself in Act 2, just in time for its hero’s redemption.

DOLLY PARTON’S SMOKY MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS CAROL Based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by David H. Bell, Paul T. Couch and Curt Wollan. Book by David H. Bell. Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. Directed by Bobby Garcia. An Arts Club Production at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until January 2. Tickets


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