By Britin Haller
Is there any literary character portrayed more than Ebenezer Scrooge?
There are, but not many.
The miserly grinch has been interpreted over many decades in myriad incarnations. But his message itself is simple and may be summed up in the words of New City Players’ Producing Artistic Director Timothy Mark Davis who says “The story of Scrooge is about transformation. The idea that people can change.”
Based on the Charles Dickens’ classic tale, and brilliantly reimagined by Tyler Johnson Grimes, A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play opens on Christmas Eve, 1971, in a radio station in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The station WNCP (New City Players, clever!), has been family-owned and operated for decades, and is now in the hands of the heir to the throne, Alastair Filmore. Times are so tough Alastair is selling, and despite protestations from his sister and staff, he refuses to change his mind.
But the show must go on, at least for tonight, and so we lay witness to WNCP’s last performance of Scrooge’s transformation, or anything else for that matter.
As the final broadcast of A Christmas Carol begins, and Jacob Marley and the Three Ghosts make their presence known, Alastair Filmore’s real life, and Scrooge’s imaginary one, collide in the most fascinating of ways.
Creatively performed as an old-fashioned radio production, jazzed-up actors use microphones on tall stands and a multitude of household items to recreate sound. Applause and On the Air signs add to the fun and aid the audience in following along with the play-within-a-play. A sing-a-long received energetic crowd participation and laughter.
Given A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play is such an ensemble cast, it would be amiss not to mention all seven actors. Sometimes on opening night, one can expect fumbles. Not here.
Stage Manager Andrea Guardo-Cuao, in a smaller role, is the first to make an appearance, and keeps us on track. Her energy bubbles over.
Laura Argo is Frances Magon, Alastair’s practical and sentimental sister, who tries to help him see the error of his ways before it’s too late. Their dialogue is brutal, touching, and sweet, and their brother/sister dynamic plays true to form.
Anyone familiar with the Manhattan Transfer quartet may see a resemblance, whether intended or not, with the following individuals who share the spotlight at frequent intervals.
Gustavo Garcia plays Pat Williams, a used car salesman from Hialeah, who is there because he won a contest and who clearly has never been in a radio station before.
Marlo Rodriguez is Claire Phillips, an employee harboring a deep secret, Caroline Tarantolo appears as June Lockhart, an actor and prior love interest to Alastair.
Noah Levine is Walter R. Booth, the Andy Gibb-looking station announcer and all-around lovable goofball. His Tiny Tim voice is a special highlight. Together, Garcia and Levine provide a much-needed comic relief to alleviate the dark themes elsewhere. These two actors work together so well they should go on the road. Talk about crowd-pleasers!
And last, but certainly not least, is Carlos Alayeto as Alastair Filmore. Anyone attending NCP’s 2022 holiday rendition of It’s a Wonderful Life should remember his legendary performance as Freddie Filmore. This year, Carlos’ two portrayals are full of miraculous ugly, raw emotion as he holds nothing back, resulting in a visceral reaction from this audience member. His characters of Alastair and Scrooge are so mean, they should be called Grooge, because these guys are as ornery as the Grinch and Scrooge put together.
Hurrah to Tyler Johnson Grimes for pulling double duty as both the playwright and the sound and Foley designer. Named after artist Jack Foley, this is the art of utilizing live sound effects, something done regularly in those old radio programs. These typically everyday noises, such as shoes walking across a floor, made listeners feel they were in the middle of the action. The actors who perform it in this presentation really get into it, and the theatregoers did, too.
Props and set dresser Jameelah Bailey must be commended. This was no easy task due to the large number of intricate objects needed to be on stage in the proper positions for the actors to grab them and go. Bailey delivered.
Lighting designer Annabel Herrera utilizes her skills to exacerbate the suspense, and while a seizure warning for those with sensitivities appears in the playbill, only one particularly bright bulb in one scene caused this reviewer to shield her eyes.
And finally, let’s talk about designer Casey Sacco’s’70s costuming. She is so spot on one might think she lived through the decade herself. Between Pat’s corduroy style jacket, Claire’s white patent leather go-go boots and gold chain belt, June’s paisley dress, Frances’ tweed skirt and hair barrettes, and Walter’s one-of-a-kind bell-bottomed orange suit that must be seen to be believed because no written description can possibly do it justice, Casey nailed it. Her costuming is so good it became an eight character.
This New City Players’ A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play is truly a blast from the past in more ways than one. Bring a groovy jacket if you tend to get cold.
Britin Haller is the Senior Editor for Charade Media. Her latest novel is Dumpster Dying by Michelle Bennington, available where books are sold. Find Britin across social media and at Charadebooks.com
A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play, presented by New City Players, runs through December 23 at Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors. Times are at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; at 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for seniors (65+), and $25 for students (under 25 with ID), with the exception of Thursday night performances, on which $25 tickets will be available for all. Tickets can be purchased at www.newcityplayers.org/season or call (954)-376-6114. Weekly post-show talkbacks will be held following every Sunday performance to explore the themes and process of the play.