A Christmas Carol took the stage for Student/Press Night. Local critic Ben Sharp penned a review just in time for opening night:

Even the hardest-hearted miser would have difficulty not being moved by the Wharton Plaza Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. Set to run from Dec. 1 through Dec. 10 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays, the classic Charles Dickens’s story is a poignant reminder that all human beings – regardless of socioeconomic status – are worthy of consideration, compassion and love.

Adapted and directed by Darin Mielke, the Plaza’s production offers a familiar, yet fresh, rendering of the classic holiday drama. While traditional versions of the story tend to focus almost entirely on the more dramatic elements of the tale, Mielke’s version incorporates humorous moments that help to break up the somber atmosphere and sobering message. Several times the audience erupted in laughter at a particular actor’s reaction or well-timed quip.

Timing, for the most part, was well-balanced in both scene changes and line delivery, though there were a few awkward moments of silence that made the audience ponder whether a line was forgotten or a stage cue was missed. The set itself (designed by Mielke) was stunning, with massive raised platforms, period furniture and a brilliant three-part rotating backdrop that enabled quick, seamless changes between scenes.

The costumes were some of the best this reviewer has ever seen. They were colorful, well-made, and true to the old London setting in which the story takes place. The attention to detail was stunning, and it was easy to deduce that countless hours went into every cast member’s costume, from the cheery brown and tan socks of Tiny Tim to the festive green coats and skirts of the carolers to the eerie, distressing black robes of the ghost of Christmas Future. Costume designer Karis Meek deserves a huge pat on the back for such elegance and devotion.

The ghosts, a central element of the story, were marvelously presented. Ginger Williams, a Wharton County Junior College theater student, was fantastic as the ghost of Christmas Past. With her face covered by a shimmery veil, she expressed the frustration and angst surrounding Scrooge’s troubled past. The ghost of Christmas Present was played by another WCJC drama student, Danté Hancock. Like Williams, Hancock perfectly encapsulated his part, enunciating clearly and projecting his lines with such force that they were easily audible from the back of the theatre. The ghost of Christmas Future, played by Erick Whitley, was spooky, unsettling, and intimidating, looming over Scrooge in black robes and a full face covering. Whitley’s character “spoke” through powerful gestures accompanied by artificial lightning and thunder, and the effect was appropriately unsettling.

The ghost of Jacob Marley, perhaps the most vital spirit of them all, was magnificently played by Laurance Armour. Outfitted in a pale white frock coat and powdered wig, Armour appeared before Scrooge in a cloud of mist, bound by chains and emotionally lamenting the time he had wasted while still alive. Armour’s depiction was appropriately bizarre and sorrowful, expressing the angst, horror and regret felt by someone doomed to wander through the afterlife, forever weighed down by past regret.

Anchoring the show was Ron Saville in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Saville was perfectly cast, his hunched back and squeaky voice epitomizing the frail but obstinate miser. Though there were a few awkward moments toward the end of the show where it seemed that Saville might be searching for lines, overall he did a marvelous job, rivaling famous movie renditions of the character as portrayed by the likes of George C. Scott, Albert Finney and Jim Carrey.

Mielke’s adaptation included a portrayal of Charles Dickens himself, who served as narrator from a writer’s desk at stage right. This addition added a unique element to the show, providing a classical foundation that revealed the story’s rich literary heritage. Plaza veteran Mark Szafarz did a wonderful job with this role, encapsulating some of the thinking that might have been going through the great writer’s head as he composed his seminal masterpiece.

The portrayal of the Cratchit family was excellent, with Neil McDonald taking the role of Bob Cratchit, Hailey Roberson playing Mrs. Cratchit, Reagan Dutcher playing Martha Cratchit, Kipton Krenek playing Peter Cratchit, Julia Limas playing Belinda Cratchit and Graham Krenek doing a phenomenal job in the pivotal role of Tiny Tim. The little actor’s singing was absolutely precious, matched only by fellow junior actor Cameron Reck, who shared a stirring rendition of a classic Christmas song from center stage as a street urchin hopeful of a holiday handout.

Although the show was not a true musical, songs were placed throughout to help emphasize the holiday theme. Mielke’s inclusion of a trio of carolers was a smart move, providing a pleasant segue between scenes. Despite one small slip-up near the end of the production, singers Matthew Abbott, Rachel Roberson and Sheila Taylor were absolutely fantastic. The show included a brilliant ensemble cast that sang, danced, and provided the illusion of busy London streets. Standouts included Camille Mund, who was absolutely delightful as a lower-class woman capitalizing off Scrooge’s foretold death; Ginger Williams, whose facial expressions and voice projection were flawless; and Rodrigo Gutierrez, another WCJC drama student who was emotive and charismatic in several roles, including that of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.

Other cast members included Julie Crider, Stanley Garcia, Sydnee Garrett, Makaya Brown and Alyssa Almendarez. Production credits included Al Folmar, who served as assistant director, sound designer and concessions management; Quinn Wrench, who served as stage manager; Kenny Socha, who handled lights; Leeanna Shimek, who served as sound board operator; Jami Hughes, who oversaw the box office and house management; Russell Kacer, who handled communications; and Sharon Joines, who handled photography.

The show is presented by Texasgulf Federal Credit Union.

ABOUT BEN SHARP: Ben Sharp is is Marketing and Communications Coordinator for Wharton County Junior College and spends his days writing press releases, photographing a wide variety of college activities and publishing the college’s e-Newsletter. He previously spent 14 years as a reporter at the Wharton Journal-Spectator and also operated a photography business. He holds an English degree from the University of Houston. He lives in Wharton with his wife, Kristen, and their three kids, Madalyn, Andrew and Matthew.