RMES presents a carol for all seasons and ages

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

RMES presents a carol for all seasons and ages“A Christmas Carol: The Musical” delivered everything I’ve come to look for in our vibrant community theater scene — a luminescent cast, soaring vocals, toe-tapping dance routines, a pitch-perfect orchestra and a flawless set.

It’s a tale so well known it can’t be spoiled — a crotchety old miser oppresses his Victorian neighbors with his aversion to Christmas. The restless spirit of his deceased business partner pleads with him to change his greedy heart before it’s too late. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future take him through the paces of his life to accentuate the error of his ways.

The conclusion is so satisfying it doesn’t matter that we knew how it would end before setting foot in the theater.

And yet … Ridgecrest Musical Enrichment Society manages to take one of the most familiar stories in the English language and make it seem even more dazzling, poignant and, dare I say, relevant?

This is not just a Christmas story. It’s a reminder that each of us face the same choice every day — are we going to cast shadow or light in this world?

Since 2009, RMES has amassed a network of volunteers that has helped raise $125,000 for local youth performing arts programs. In the process, they have also offered high-caliber entertainment to our valley, making a sport out of setting increasingly high bars only to vault over them.

“Christmas Carol,” jointly directed by Kevin and Melanie Anderson, may be RMES’ most ambitious offering yet. From open to close, the duo seem to have painstakingly attended the details to ensure the powerful message of their story is delivered.

Bill Farris as Scrooge commands attention from his first appearance on stage. He is unapologetic, barking at everyone he meets and obtusely refusing to acknowledge the needs around him. But as we peer into the layers of Scrooge’s past, Farris manages to perfectly pace the slow reveal into his fragile character.

In stark contrast, we meet the warm and tender Bob Cratchet, played by an achingly sincere Jim Sanders. His early scene with Tiny Tim, the prodigiously talented Kenny Anderson, sends us galloping off on our emotional journey.

Phillip Randolph temporarily steals the spotlight as Marley, leading his macabre army of dark spirits (with spectacular vocals and terrifyingly convincing creepiness) in “Link by Link.” This number also features the powerful male ensemble, and is guaranteed to be a crowd favorite.

In continuing Scrooge’s nighttime visitations, Britney Brown portrays Christmas Past with whimsey and charm — maintaining a youthful exuberance even while reintroducing Scrooge to the sorrows of his past. But despite the joys that accompanied them, it was the pain of loss that etched itself most firmly on his character.

Kevin Anderson II and Larry Cosner IV play Scrooge in his various phases of youth, each perfectly capturing the slowly hardening exterior that ultimately swallows him up entirely.

Megan Anderson as Emily and Jake Gabrillo as Young Marley are utterly convincing in portraying opposite forces of influence. By the time Scrooge chooses a successful career over the love of his life, hearts are broken, hardened and expired.

After a jovial introduction, Christmas Present shows Scrooge the resulting legacy he has built for himself, with our anti-hero beginning to show signs of regret for where his choices have led him. As Christmas Present, Jon Riddick embodies the “generosity of soul” all thespians strive for — from his spellbinding solo to his chilling final words.

But it is not until he meets Christmas Future, expertly executed by Christina MacGregor, that Scrooge truly comprehends the horrors that lie ahead. Through a performance limited largely to pantomime, MacGregor demonstrates the tragic consequences sowed by his callousness.

There is not adequate space to acknowledge the superlative talent in this production. Larry and Marla Cosner are a delight as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, Phillip Petersen and Kathryn Garcia add genuine sweetness (and unforgettable voices) as Fred and Sally Anderson, Rachel Wetzle’s angelic voice keeps our message on point, and Kanon Schiller adds comic relief.

Cate Demin has choreographed some outstanding numbers that are breathtaking to behold. Shout out to Inda Alexander and the rest of the dancers who adroitly anchor the ensemble scenes.

Musical Director Brian Cosner has helped the cast refine a rich tapestry of nearly non-stop singing, and conducted an excellent group of musicians in the pit.

As always, Dorothy Saitz and Sandy Pryor must be congratulated for yet another gorgeously designed and painted set.

These elements work together to drive home a subtle theme in our story that is easy to overlook: we build up protective barriers and coping mechanisms to shield ourselves from pain. Ebenezer Scrooge does not start out as an innately evil man, he is a survivor of his own trauma. But in making himself invulnerable to pain, he also makes himself impervious to the destructive impact his own actions have on others.

In the end, I do not believe his change of heart is motivated so much by the saving of his own soul as it is out of desperation to revive those he realizes have been crushed under the weight of his self-centeredness.

Scrooge, in the twilight of his days, cannot go back and re-live his life. But we get a glimpse of the enormous amount of good he can do by this simple reorienting of focus.

The show opens Thursday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. in the Parker Performing Arts Center. Additional performances will be held the next two Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21, with a Sunday, Oct. 22, showing at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 general admission, with reduced prices of $12 for seniors and military and $10 for RMES members, available at Red Rock Books.

Please see this show. And if you should happen to meet a member of the cast or crew, please thank them for reminding us “star by star in the sky, and kindness by human kindness, let us love till we die, and God bless us, everyone.”

Pictured: Bill Farris as Ebeneezer Scrooge in RMES’s "A Christmas Carol: The Musical." -- Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2017-10-10