By Joe Shearer – Photo Editor
Black Friday is one of the biggest shopping days in the United States each year and also an overwhelming reminder that Christmas is just around the corner. Another annual event that marks the beginning of the holiday season is the Omaha Community Playhouse’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” On Friday night, instead of being mauled by rogue shoppers thirsting for blood and/or sweet deals, I was able to enjoy a night of merriment in this tradition-rich OCP staple.
2010 marks the 35th anniversary of the show being staged at the Playhouse. The joyous spirit that has been encapsulating the cast, crew and audience for years was as apparent as ever Friday night. The theater lobby was as colorful and lively as the old-time streets of 19th-century London portrayed on stage. Children were laughing and giddy as couples of many generations held hands, and exchanged stories as the clock winding down to show time depleted. It was a merry sight, indeed.
As the house lights dimmed and the curtain raised, the audience was greeted with a whimsical scene of the streets of Victorian London featuring song, dance, hat-doffing and the like. It is Christmas Eve and the tone is light and nonchalant. We later meet the infamous miser and general people-hater Ebenezer Scrooge and his underling and character foil, Bob Cratchit. The aura of warmth and happiness is quickly dashed upon the cobblestone streets by Scrooge as he reminds the townspeople of their debts to him. Concurrently, Cratchit keeps the holiday spirit alive for his family.
Despite the long hours for the less-than-appealing salary he puts in for Scrooge, Cratchit finds the ability to thank Scrooge for providing him with a position to support his family, much to the dislike of Mrs. Cratchit (and the rest of the townspeople, for that matter).
The rest of the production, as most know, involves Scrooge’s descent into near madness as he is visited by three apparitions who bombard our antagonist with scenes of his past, his current state and what will happen to him if he doesn’t change his old ways soon.
This is a timeless tale of redemption and an essential Christmas story. It is also one of the Playhouse’s finest traditions. The cast and crew are very proud of this yearly project and their efforts are quite obvious. Jerry Longe, who has been playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for the last five years, kept the audience giggling with his animated facial expressions, discriminating dialogue and wide array of horrified yelps and screams. Longe is only the second person ever to portray Scrooge on the OCP stage, being the predecessor to the legendary Dick Boyd, who manned the Scrooge role for the first 30 years of production.
The acting wasn’t the only memorable element of “A Christmas Carol,” though. The music, choreography, set direction, sound and lighting were all phenomenal. The production quality has improved immensely since my yearly grade school visits to see this show. Scenes flowed seamlessly as set pieces raised, glided and rolled around in a puzzle-like frenzy. The crowd gasped as the ghost of Jacob Marley howled while smoke spewed out of his body and strobe lights mimicked cracks of lightning. And the whole house was on its feet cheering after the final dance and reprise of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.”
The Christmas season is one of my absolute favorites, and after seeing this show after many years of missing it, I felt a presence of warmth within. This is the time of year where we need to let go of our hang-ups and negative elements and just cherish what we have, for we never know how long we’ll be around. “A Christmas Carol” embodies this sentiment and will hopefully continue to brighten Omaha’s spirits for years to come.
If you have time to stray from the hustle and bustle of the season, take a trip to the Playhouse and celebrate the spirit of Christmas with a wonderful night of theater. In a time where our country is going through a lot of changes, it’s nice to know that a strong tradition such as this exists for us.
“A Christmas Carol” is running through Dec. 23 at the Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Tickets are $35 for adults and $24 for students, and can be purchased at the Omaha Community Playhouse Box Office at 553-0800 or online at ticketomaha.com.