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Theater review:  Musical version of ‘Christmas Carol’ is brilliant

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As I wrote last year when I reviewed “A Christmas Carol” at Albuquerque Little Theatre, it is the definitive Christmas show. It is hard to imagine the holiday season, if you are a theatergoer, without at least one production of Charles Dickens’ classic tale. But as I also wrote last year, the trick is presenting the familiar story in a fresh and vital manner. The ALT production last year succeeded by presenting the story as a play within a play, as a traveling company of actors was scheduled to put on a production of “A Christmas Carol” but lost a key actor and had to recruit the sadistic stage manager to play Scrooge.

This year, the Elite Dance and Theatre Company has found an even more unusual – and brilliant – manner of presenting the story of Scrooge’s redemption. Cheri Costales, artistic director at Elite, has crafted her own musical version of “A Christmas Carol” that fully utilizes her company of talented dancers. Indeed, some of the most compelling scenes in the drama are dance numbers performed by an ensemble of a dozen or more dancers.

The story is the same, with the ghost of Scrooge’s selfish business partner, Jacob Marley, visiting and warning him to avoid the fate that has doomed him to wandering the underworld bound in thick and cumbersome chains. After Marley departs, a host of agile spirits dance around Scrooge, augmenting the otherworldliness of the scene and increasing his terror.

What follows we are all familiar with: The ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future visit Scrooge and slowly lead him to his awakening and redemption. Alyssa Costales is wonderful as the Ghost of Christmas Past, particularly because of her stunning stage presence and remarkable skill as a dancer.

Of course, any production of “A Christmas Carol” relies on the acting talent of, especially, the actors playing Scrooge and Bob Cratchit. Paul Costales is very good as Scrooge, shedding real tears as the ugly truth of his life is revealed to him and his characteristic defense mechanisms begin to dissolve. Steve Corona is likewise excellent as Bob Cratchit, sincerely rendering his character’s deeply felt faith in God and love of his family. But this is an ensemble production with strong work throughout – acting, singing, and dancing.

Costales uses a mix of traditional and Celtic Christmas music, contemporary Christian songs, folk fiddle music, bells and chimes.

This is truly a unique and astonishing rendition of the Charles Dickens classic. Because my schedule does not permit me to see the show during its regular run, I attended a run-through rehearsal of the show. I was deeply moved by the performance and can only imagine what this will be like when the full arsenal of technical apparatus is implemented. If your heart is still sensitive to the magic of the season, or if you just love great theater, don’t pass up the opportunity to see this classic Christmas story told in riveting and distinctive fashion.

“A Christmas Carol” plays through Dec. 17 at the North Fourth Art Center, Black Box Theater, 4904 Fourth NW. Some performances include hors d’oeuvres and dessert reception. Tickets can be purchased online at elitenm.net/shows. For more information, call 440-0434.

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