Robert M Smith
Rusty Stalling shines as Scrooge in 'Christmas Carol'
THE GAINESVILLE SUN
By ARLINE GREER
Sun theater critic
7:33 pm, November 28, 2007
How many ways can you say, "Bah! Humbug!"? Angrily? Spitefully? Desperately? With a sneering, nasal intonation implying perhaps that you are above it all? You can bet money that in his 18 years of playing Scrooge for The Hippodrome State Theatre's "A Christmas Carol," Rusty Salling has tried them all, and perfected them all.
In the 30th anniversary production of "A Christmas Carol," now playing at The Hippodrome, Salling comes up with the longest "Bah! Humbug!" yet heard in this time-honored production. The audience holds its collective breath as Salling's Ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ah resonates through the theater like an opera star's resounding high "C."
Over the years, Salling has made the role of Scrooge his own. He has played the old miser with cold calculation and with a lifted eyebrow. In this production, he gives Scrooge a comic turn, portraying the old gent much like a cartoon character who has stepped out of a Dr. Seuss story.
The original "A Christmas Carol" was written by Charles Dickens in 1843. He called it his "little Christmas Book" and it was tremendously popular, selling 6,000 copies in its first week. Since that time, the story has been adapted for the stage, for films and for radio and television. A morality story dealing with poverty and injustice, it follows Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser, on a path to redemption.
Mary Hausch's interpretation of the classic moves swiftly through the past events in Scrooge's life, touching on those that made him the man he is today. The present holds valuable lessons for him when he visits the impoverished home of his maltreated employee, Bob Cratchit (played with warmth and humor by Cameron Francis), who is sitting down to a poor Christmas dinner with his wife (Robyn Berg) and children. The present gives way to the future where Scrooge is allowed to see that he dies unmourned and reviled.
All these revelations are made possible by Jacob Marley, his dead business partner and now a wretched ghost, played by Gregory Jones like the Master of Ceremonies of "This Is Your LIfe, Ebenezer Scrooge." Marley arranges for Scrooge to be visited by three ghosts: Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.
Christmas Past, played by Nell Page, dressed all in white, brings a lovely benign presence to Scrooge's bedside and escorts him to places meaningful in his unhappy childhood. Ghost of Christmas Present, cloaked in crimson and adorned with Christmas wreaths, is played by Ted Stephens III with ebullient good humor, notwithstanding the visit he makes with Scrooge to Bob Cratchit's poverty-stricken home during Christmas dinner.
Robert M. Smith is downright scary as the giant Ghost of Christmas Future. Covered all in black and faceless, he utters not a sound as he shows Scrooge the fate that awaits him if he doesn't change his ways.
But, as almost everyone knows, "A Christmas Carol" is a story with a happy ending. Scrooge awakens to the realization that he's been a stingy man. He resolves to change and immediately purchases a huge turkey (designed by Marilyn Wall 30 years ago for The Hippodrome's first production of "A Christmas Carol") and hauls it to the Cratchit home where he contributes it to their Christmas dinner. He becomes a benefactor to his community. No longer is he heard saying, "Bah! Humbug!" when the word "Christmas" is spoken. (With Rusty Salling in the role, audiences can be sure of a new variation of those words in next season's production of the show.)
Sara Morsey deftly directed this compact production of "A Christmas Carol." Marilyn A. Wall designed its Victorian costumes. Carlos Asse is responsible for the simple set and Lorelai Esser designed the props. Robert P. Robins' special effects include a flying ghost and characters rising out of a thick, gray mist accompanied by thunderous noise.
One 6 year old was heard asking, "Why does it have to be loud and scary?" Prior to hearing the show's opening lines, it probably is a good idea to explain to young children that what they will be seeing is just make believe.
The Hippodrome's "A Christmas Carol" is a tour de force for Rusty Salling. He gets lots of help from a very large cast which includes 30 children, all of whom look delighted to be taking part in this 30th anniversary edition of the show.