The Masquerade Theatre, in Houston’s nearby Heights, is fond of calling itself “The Best Kept Secret in Houston.” Several of my previous Courier reviews there have revealed that secret; but for readers who have not yet discovered the joys of this intimate (fewer than 100 seats) playhouse, this holiday season is the perfect time to get acquainted. The current run of “Scrooge, The Stingiest Man in Town” is a pure delight for young and old. Skillfully directed by Phillip Duggins , the show (based, of course, on Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”) features the wonderfully melodic music of Fred Spielman and the witty lyrics of Janice Torre.
The arriving audience was greeted by the attractive bi-level brickwork set of Russell Freeman and the pleasant and merry overture from Masquerade’s fine Chamber Orchestra. Lovely Victorian costumes (designers, Stephanie Bradow, Allison Sumrall, Kathy Porter, Beth Smith and Mr. Duggins) fill the small stage as the large cast enters with the delicious “An Old-Fashioned Christmas.” It would be just one of many delightful songs in the piece that I am amazed have not found their way into the popular repertoire of Christmas standards. The fine choreography of Laura Gray was every inch the equal of the show’s tuneful music, providing lovely line dances, waltzes and even dancing spirits. The “Christmas Spirit” number, full of whirling treats and dancing toys was especially colorful and well staged. So too, was the party scene at old Fezziwig’s (cheerfully portrayed by Ilich Guardiola).
Nicely punctuating the flow of the story line were the occasional musical interludes (some with dramatic frozen cast tableaus) from the show’s fine carolers. Also fine was the joyous performance of Kory Kilgore as the nephew, Fred. His Uncle Scrooge was played by Terry Jones, dressed in an odd wig that looked like something from a Saturday Night Live spoof. I confess it was a bit of a distraction for me, but Jones’ somewhat offbeat characterization, while not vocally strong or mean spirited enough, did grow on me as the evening went along. Rebekah Dahl (as Scrooge’s housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber) and Russell Freeman (as Ragpicker Hawkins) were perfect cockney foils for one another in humorous numbers like the title song. If Masquerade ever stages “My Fair Lady,” they would be perfect as Liza Dolittle and her father. Freeman, by the way, doubles well as The Ghost of Christmas Past.
We meet the agonizing ghost of Marley played by Luther Chakurian. Better still is Chakurian’s compelling performance as The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. With his rich voice, Guardiola offers an ominous, articulate and convincing Ghost of Christmas Present and sings a tender “One Little Boy” duet with Scrooge. Tinkling chimes and a bright lantern guide us to each new destination. The home of Bob Cratchitt (David Higginbotham) and his wife (Stephanie Bradow) was a standout among those destinations; and the loving family was sweetly filled out by several talented children in the cast, including Ben Estus who shines as an endearing Tiny Tim. (Don’t miss the youthful innocence of his touching “Yes, There Is A Santa Claus.”)
Another highlight was the charming pairing of “Young” Scrooge (Joshua Wright) and Belle (Monica Passley). In “Golden Dreams,” Wright and Passley sing divinely, and nicely capture all the hope and promise of young love. Regrettably, the staging did not allow the needed moment for the loud applause that duet deserved.
Fred leads the guests at his party in a reverent “Birthday Party of The King” that called to mind the real meaning of Christmas. And when Scrooge repents with the realization that “Mankind should be my business,” Mr. Jones characterization takes on a special charm as Scrooge merrily distributes gifts to Cratchitt’s family. Why not give your family the special gift of a visit to this Masquerade Theatre gem?
(The Courier 12.14.03)