Little Cheer in South Bend Civic 'Carol'

In 1843, prolific British author Charles Dickens decided he needed a new work that would be both “profitable and popular.”

Putting quill to paper, he hit the literary jackpot in only six weeks with “A Christmas Carol.”

Since its initial publication, Dickens’ story of an elderly miser and his ghostly redemption has remained a holiday favorite, a fact which has its pluses and minuses.

It has never been out of print and has been done, redone and done again in films, opera, radio, ballet, television and theater, probably more than any other one piece of literature.

For the most part, that’s the plus.

It has often tempted others to put their own stamp on Dickens’ work, most often with less-than-successful results, obviously ignoring the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

That’s the minus, especially as it relates to the current production by the South Bend Civic Theatre which has been given a local setting by adapter David Chudzynski.

Blending the Victorian era “Carol” with the plight of a South Bend family facing the impending closure of the Studebaker plant in 1963 is awkward at best. At worst, it offers two hours of confusing“drama” with only a very few high spots. And it is definitely jarring to find the Fezziwigs doing The Twist!

A Christmas Carol  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreDirector Kevin Dreyer must share some of the responsibility for players who seem mostly to mumble and/or talk to the floor. Those who don’t — Allan W. Holody as the chain-rattling spectre of Marley; Maureen Wojciechowski as a ludicrously costumed, tell-it-like-it-is Ghost of Christmas Present; Frank Quirk as a full-bearded Scrooge looking more like “A Miracle on 34th Street,” and Mary Ann Moran as a plant official, a donation solicitor and a greedy ragpicker — are high spots in frequently indecipherable passages.

Since most of the actors are required to play at least two and sometimes three era-spanning characters, there is little establishment of individual personas. Those in the “original” fare better, being by now familiar to anyone who has read, seen or heard the story

Eight “Workers” march on periodically, a la a Greek chorus, to supply narrative bridges with, unfortunately, varying degrees of vocal projection.

The two-tiered set designed by Michaela Duffy works very well as Scrooge’s counting house (below) and his living quarters (up), as well as other locations old and new, with moveable stairs allowing ghosts and spirits easy access journeying from past to present to future.

There are no hesitant sound effects (the thunder really cracks!) and costumes are mostly minimal and represent no period in particular, rather like this production.

‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ plays through Dec. 20 in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N.Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.

WW 'Cinderella' Still A Magical Tale

Take a tale that has been literally enchanting readers for more than three centuries, add music and dancing and what have you got?

As brought to life on the stage of the recently-renamed Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts, it’s definitely enchanting but certainly not your grandmother’s “Cinderella.”

Since its beginning in 1697, the story of the badly-served stepchild has taken many forms — ballet, opera, plays and films (including an animated version) — but the core remains the same.

Beautiful and kind young girl overcomes the harsh treatment by stepmother and stepsisters to win the love of a handsome prince and ride off to happily ever after. It’s a scenario many young girls have taken to heart as more than fiction.

R&H Cinderella  Wagon Wheel Center Warsaw INThe latest version, which went to Broadway in 2013, opened Friday in the Warsaw theater. It keeps the lovely music of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, while the rewrite by Douglas Carter Beane adds several elements and a couple of new characters to modernize the original story.

The prince’s parents are no longer around, having been replaced by a calculating courtier who has his eye on the crown. Cinderella’s stepsisters are more comical than cruel. One is in love with the local political firebrand whose aim is to bring democracy to the kingdom. Meanwhile, the stepmother and the courtier have their own thing going on!

R&H Cinderella  Wagon Wheel Center  Warsaw INThe magical godmother is still on hand, as are the enchanted coach and footmen and glittering gowns. It takes a ball and a banquet before Cinderella throws (?!) the glass slipper, but the message here is definitely aimed at female empowerment and individual self-worth.

Several actors from last summer’s outstanding WW company are on hand, plus some new faces who fit right in with the talented ensemble.

Petite Jackey Good creates a feisty title character who attacks her mountain of chores with a good will (and a lovely voice) and discovers “It’s Possible” to make your dreams come true.

As the object of her affection, Jeremy Seiner’s Prince Topher (short for Christopher) is the kind of mild-mannered noble you’d like to support as he searches for his own place in the royal hierarchy.

Two of 2015’s \best — Ellen Jenders and Kira Lace Hawkins — are stepsisters Gabrielle and Charlotte, respectively, delivering hilariously haughty, mincing queens-in-waiting. Madame, their conniving mother, is played with gleeful menace by Catherine DeLuce. The object of her affection is Sebastian, a cloak-swirling conniver who only needs a twirling mustache to double for Snidley Whiplash. WW veteran Mike Yocum adds Sebastian to his collection of villains you love to strongly dislike..

Matthew Janisse is in excellent form as the newest character in the tale, Jean-Michel, a revolutionary who loves Gabrielle.

Solving all the problems, or at least pointing characters in the right direction, is Kristen Yasenchak as Marie, an old woman who becomes a fairy godmother and delivers “Fol-De-Rol” and a generous sprinkling of magic with a maternal twinkle and a warm voice. Especially impressive is “There’s Music in You” which might pass for “Cinderella’s” “Climb Every Mountain.”

The score, which is the 2013 Broadway version, contains almost all of the music from the 1965 TV production, plus several tunes which didn’t make it into the final versions of R&H theatrical musicals. As played by music director Thomas N. Sterling and his 10-piece orchestra, it is a pleasure just to listen.

R&H Cinderella  Wagon Wheel Center  Warsaw INThe frequently “magical” costumes designed by Stephen R. Hollenbeck survived a bit of “slippage” opening night and, as usual, filled the arena stage with color — not to mention Ella’s glittering “enchanted” gowns.

The ensemble, which is both adult and youth, executes the kaleidoscopic dances of director/chorographer Scott Michaels with deceptive ease throughout, creating the perfect setting for a timeless tale which still shines through, rewrites and all.

RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA” plays Friday through Sunday and Dec. 18- 20 at the Center at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance tim

es and reservations, call (574) 267-8041.