nytheatre.com review by Andrew Rothkin
December 9, 2011
3 Ghosts, Pipe Dream Theatre’s “Steampunk” musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s perennial yuletide yarn A Christmas Carol, is visually stunning and is filled with some effective facets and some charming moments, but in the end, the piece left me cold and unsatisfied.
The show looks amazing. Stephanie Goldman’s shadowy, theatrical lighting interplays strikingly with Peter Muller’s simple but suggestive set, helping to tell a clear story as the piece shifts quickly in time and place. The surprisingly lavish costumes, exquisitely detailed by Vanessa Price and director Liz Muller (wearing one of her many hats), are perhaps the true stars of the show—richly beautiful in mostly earth tones, with sporadic sparks of vibrant gem colors poking through, and brilliantly evoking the fabulous world of the Steampunk. Clearly, a great deal of time and artistry went into the look and feel of the show.
Likewise, Collin Simon’s original music is strong, ranging from the merely serviceable to the exquisite. I enjoyed the music very much, and Simon is a gifted composer, but I am not convinced that the creative team chose the most effective scenes and moments to musicalize—to help tell the story and/or to highlight the emotional context of the work. Indeed, there are places where the musical numbers stop the flow of action instead of elaborating on it. Further, while there are some strong signers in the ensemble, some of the voices are too weak to get past the first few rows, leaving many of Muller’s lyrics a mystery. (Perhaps audience members sitting closer to the stage, or on house right, away from the sometimes blaring speakers, had better luck in making out the words.) In any event, when the music worked, it worked extremely well.
3 Ghosts is filled with delightful choreography by Danielle Moreau and Stefanie Raccuglia: exciting and innovative and great fun. (One highlight is their multi-dancer, original take on The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come!) The large ensemble (40, I believe!) are mostly excellent dancers, and quite a few have moments to shine and impress in this regard.
Many sparkle as actor/singers as well. In a cast of this size, with so much talent on the stage and so many young, attractive actors having clearly worked so hard, it is always difficult to select the standouts…but indeed, I feel compelled to mention a few. Anthony Massa and Brady Lynch, as Young Ebenezer and his great love, Belle, respectively, add a great deal of charm, depth and honesty to the proceedings, both with solid acting and singing skill, both very likable in their roles. The entire Cratchit family, as well—Joseph C. Bellino as Bob, Katherine Murphy as his wife, Rachel Moody as their daughter, Martha, and Megan Rose Margiotti as Tiny Tim, help to ground the spectacle in heartfelt reality. (I am normally not a fan of females playing boys, as we so often see in independent theatre, but Margiotti is so simple and un-saccharine in her portrayal of Tiny Tim, that I was more than happy to suspend the disbelief.) Finally, Muller, wearing yet another hat, is a great force of power and economy of motion as The Ghost of Christmas Past.
Thus, 3 Ghosts is gorgeous to look at with some glorious music, some excellent actor/singers and some exciting, inspiring dance/choreography….
The primary problem with the production, from my perspective, is the casting of Elio Lleo as Ebenezer Scrooge. Firstly, he looks at least 30 years too young for the role. And second, Lleo never seemed to find the Scrooge-like bitterness or meanness of this character, and consequently there was nowhere to go. I don’t believe the piece can work unless we see a Scrooge (of whatever age) with a heart of ice, wherein the audience can journey with him through the gradual thawing, until, in the end, his heart is as warm and toasty as a Christmas fire. What Lleo did bring to the production was a glorious voice.
In sum, Muller has done an outstanding job of staging the piece, bringing a top-notch production team on board and adding some innovative touches. The production is fun and it almost works. I encourage Muller and the Pipe Dream team to rework the piece a bit for subsequent Christmas seasons—rethinking some song placement, making a strong, conscious choice as to how Steampunk tells their version of Dickens’s original story, and casting an age-appropriate actor in the lead more capable of the layers needed for the role (even if it means casting a lesser singer). With everything else the show has going for it, these modifications could make for a seasonal treat for years and years to come.