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Palace Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” delivers the goods

Holiday cheer — especially of the musical variety — is the order of the day for “A Christmas Carol,” the classic play receiving the musical treatment at the Dells’ Palace Theatre through Dec. 27.

As promised, the David Bell-adapted version of the Charles Dickens story includes choral versions of just about every classic Christmas carol you can think of — approximately two dozen in all if you include a few snippets sprinkled throughout in addition to complete tunes — sung throughout by a dozen or so cast members in full-throated form.

The theater itself is decked out in holiday lights, trees and wreaths arrayed across the front of the stage and in the lobby, and Christmas radio classics from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s are piped-in during the dinner served before the play, at intermission and after the performance.

In other words, if you’re having trouble getting in the holiday spirit — or maybe even feeling like a little bit of a Scrooge — this version of “A Christmas Carol” may be just the antidote.

The spirited renditions of such holiday favorites as “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Joy to the World,” “Deck the Halls” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” serve to energize the oft-told tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, the Victorian-era curmudgeon and pinch penny who gave us the phrase “Bah, Humbug.”

That famous phrase is bellowed a time or two — in between carols, of course — by actor Mitch Tebo as Scrooge, in a performance that provides a requisite helping of holiday alienation and grumpiness mixed with pathos and even humor.

Nestled beneath the performance’s musical cheer — like that last small-but-important gift under the tree — is the story of Scrooge, who during a fitful Christmas Eve’s sleep receives a crash course in the meaning of the season — and life in general — from three ghosts who take him on a mostly painful journey through his past, present and future.

Some of those ghosts defy gravity as they fly in and out of Scrooge’s bedroom, as part of a simple yet ingenious set by Robert Andrew Kovach. The set — with its Victorian-era facades and bric-a-brac spilling into the audience on both sides of the stage, evokes 18th-century London, where the modern celebration of Christmas — with festivities, food and gift-giving — was invented.

 
The mostly Chicago-based, ensemble cast delivers the musical and dramatic goods throughout, with almost all of the supporting players except Tebo performing in multiple roles in addition to serving as the chorus.

Standouts among the cast include Tamara White as Mrs. Dilber (Scrooge’s maid) and Mrs. Fezziwig (an early victim of Scrooge’s predatory-lending business partner Jacob Marley), Kody Walker as Scrooge’s partner Jacob Marley and Colin Morgan as Bob Cratchit.

White takes a hilarious turn as the boisterous (and sometimes drunken) Mrs. Dilber as she alternately taunts and celebrates with Scrooge, and her socialite-turned-street-urchin performance as Mrs. Fezziwig serves as the play’s narrative glue as the “old geezer” (as she calls him) recalls his sad past, bitter present and dismal future.

Kody Walker’s turn as the cold-blooded Marley in his early days as Scrooge’s partner (and negative influence) is as chilling as a December wind, and Colin Morgan’s Bob Cratchit serves as the story’s core message of simple decency, faith and hope (it is a Christmas story, after all).

The play’s children — Matthew Powell (as the ailing Tiny Tim), June Rae Manley, Ryan “RJ” Manley Jr., Zoë Etzweiller and Gennavive Meisel — serve as yet another reminder of the season’s meaning, with their excitement and wonder expressed even as the adults in their lives struggle with oppressive yet universal realities.

In spite of its sometimes heavy-duty themes and the appearance of a legitimately menacing ghost or two, “A Christmas Carol” is suitable for children — as indicated by the children’s menu as part of the holiday-themed dinner that precedes the play (desserts are served at intermission).

“A Christmas Carol” is playing Wednesday through Sunday for the next two weeks at the Palace, with a rare Monday performance Dec. 21 but no performance on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. Tickets range from $19.95 to $49.95, with both “show-only” and meal options.

Ed Legge is a reporter for the Dells Events. He can be reached at elegge@capitalnewspapers.com or at 608-745-3513.

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