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Scroogely successful
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Ordinarily when a theatre critic says someone is “perfectly cast” for a particular role, it’s a given that the gender of the actor and the gender of the character will match.

In the case of Renee DeRossett’s portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in Cultural Arts Theatre’s recent one-weekend run of A Christmas Carol, the genders are totally opposite. However, DeRossett is indeed perfect for the role.

Making no effort to gimmick her way through the performance, DeRossett plays Scrooge simply as Scrooge -- an embittered, cynical old miser who drives away other humans like a roach in a restaurant drives away customers.

Rather than attempt a revisionist take on the role with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge acknowledgement to the audience that she’s a woman playing a man, DeRossett instead uses every item in the character actor’s toolbox -- costume, makeup, props and careful mannerism -- to overcome the gender difference and, in the end, to make it completely irrelevant.

At the risk of jinxing his current run of success, I think director D.J. Queenan continues to be what Savannah has needed for a long time: a director with a flair for creative casting and the discipline to properly organize a show.

We’ve had directors with one or the other of those key skills, but I can’t remember one with as judicious a blend of the Apollonian and Dionysian as Queenan. Here’s hoping he can steer clear of the usual backstage politics and bureaucratic infighting that make a director’s job in this town so frustrating.

Everyone knows the story of Charles Dickens’ classic yuletide tale, so I’ll spare you the synopsis. Suffice it to say that Queenan expertly lays out the twin storylines of the show -- Scrooge’s interplay with various ghosts and the internal drama of the hapless Cratchit family -- without indulging in the kind of cheese that too often turns people off of holiday productions entirely.

Ryan McCurdy’s Jacob Marley is that rare thing nowadays -- a truly scary ghost (indeed, my seven-year-old daughter suddenly decided a trip to the concession stand was urgently needed during this scene). The ghostly triumvirate of Christmases Past, Present and Future each have their own distinctive personalities, especially Eve Butler’s delightful dominatrix take on the ghost of Christmas Past.

Though definitely a musical, there are not many vocal pyrotechnics in this show. Indeed, the mix of trained and untrained voices in the cast reminds one of an old-school Hollywood musical -- with character actors basically talking their way through the songs -- rather than a classic stage musical.

And here, it works. For example, Mark Rand may not wow the judges at the American Traditions vocal competition anytime soon, but his warm, expressive croon is perfect for his role of the vulnerable yet dignified Fred.

The accompanying band, directed by Keena Charboneau, is a crackerjack outfit, as they say, but about ten percent too loud for the room. With the band that loud the stage mics have to be jacked up, which leads to a brittle tinniness that fatigues the ears. And somebody give that drummer a pair of brushes!

There is a creative use of computerized back-projection during some scenes; while it doesn’t always achieve the desired effect, I do appreciate the effort to update and upgrade the production values. Keep working on it.

A lot of time and effort has gone into creating the set of this production. I especially enjoy the device of lowering different types of windows -- a dormer or a simple sash, for example -- to mark different scenes (a device which has the added advantage of creatively using the extraordinary height of the Trustees stage).

While I appreciate the professionalism and attention to detail in this set -- by no means a given in local productions -- I have to say it looks more like a McMansion in Richmond Hill than a gritty streetscape in Victorian London.

With amber lights on a beige-on-beige set inhabited by actors in primarily brown outfits, A Christmas Carol’s overall stage picture too often succumbs to the Savannah brown-out disease, wherein all color is inexplicably bled from the stage.

I don’t know why so many local productions are historically so timid about the bold use of color onstage. It’s an ongoing problem, and in my mind a relatively easy one to fix.

These small criticisms aside, though, this Christmas Carol is an overwhelming success, staying true to the spirit of Dickens’ original while letting some notable local talent breathe some fresh air into it.