REVIEW: Christmas Carol at LIPA

Impressive set, clever puppetry, strong music and a strong cast under the direction of LIPA’s acting department behind LIPA’s second large show of the season put A Christmas Carol leagues ahead of the last show in the Paul McCartney Auditorium, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. 

With virtually every seat sold, the audience clapped and cheered as the house lights faded down and the cast took to the stage for the opening number. Like Texas, the show made use of the vomitory entrances and exits within the PMA, with cast spilling in or filtering out all over the place. Unlike the previous show, however, the actors were comfortable with the musical element of the production, with pretty much the entire show being sung. Voices were strong throughout, with particular vocal energy toward the end of the one-act production. At times, however, the show felt distant, although this was clearly a sound problem rather than the fault of the actors.

Prominent throughout the entire performance was an impressive set, designed by Anna Dunn and Warwick Griggs. Two large stage trucks, two levels high, presented the streets on which the characters lived, being rotated by the stage crew to reveal the inside of the homes. Arguably, the set was a little over-the-top for a short (90 minutes from overture to bows) show, and we noted that certain set moves were probably unnecessary. Credit to the stage management crew, headed up by Ed Hingley, who had to sharpen up their act and work harder on choreographing and perfecting the truck movements with one week, following a nasty fall from the director at the top of tech week. And although there were moments where the truck-pushing crew were obvious, it was refreshing to see them in smart blacks and not badly poked at with the costume stick. What’s worse than seeing an ASM dressed in costume but with a headset over his flat cap? (42nd Street, Curve)

A confident lighting design from Paul Williams contrasted Texas’s somewhat complicated rig, and the LX team at LIPA finally seem to have mastered a Mark Cue on their new ETC Gio – “Texas has a scroller in it” is still chortled backstage.

Lea Bezoari and Rebecca Conlon turned out an impressive set of costumes for the cast of third-year actors, and the children whom were drafted in from LIPA 4:19. Particularly noteworthy was a bright and entertaining performance from Genevieve Lowe as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Tiny Tim portrayed by 4:19 student Christopher Paulson and a strong lead in Jack Quarton as old git Ebenezer Scrooge – although we often think of Scrooge as an old man, and his make-up probably should have pronounced this a little better.

Musically, the show sounded good all the way through, once again being conducted by Henry Burnett and playing from the side of stage – although LIPA probably needs to consider the bow waves thanking the orchestra at the end, as Scrooge raising an arm to the stage left wing makes even less sense than when the entire cast did so in Texas.  It’s great to thank the band, of course – but this just isn’t obvious enough for most of the audience who just clapped anyway.

All in,  LIPA’s third years actors entertained us greatly. We cried in places, laughed in others, and felt drawn in to the musical from the very beginning. The use of a clever set only added to the production value, and whilst being far from ground-breaking it was certainly something new for LIPA and well-achieved in the space. However it was destined for the skip after just four performances, and with the main house at LIPA virtually sold out on every performance, maybe this show deserved a longer run, with extra time to get those ambitious truck changes and fly cues perfect.