9Works Theatrical’s A Christmas Carol 2016

MANILA — The story of Ebenezer Scrooge has been staged countless times by local theater companies. And why not? It’s a timeless story that’s perfect for the Christmas season.

Yet jaded theater fans would probably say “Bah Humbug” to yet another version of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” with anticipation of “same-old corniness” of this story of Yuletide redemption.

9Works Theatrical and Globe Live’s dark and magical production of Lynn Ahrens’ and Alan Menken’s “A Christmas Carol” quashes these expectations with a light and sound spectacle seemingly made for modern audiences.

At its core, “A Christmas Carol,” which opens Saturday, is really a ghost story set in the London slums during the Industrial Revolution. While this is still a family-oriented musical, 9Works Theatrical dared to bring this dank setting to the Globe Iconic Store stage.

This version of “A Christmas Carol” has the beats of a Disney movie. I thought that the music was very similar to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” particularly during the dark parts. The music was given justice by the 22-piece 9Works Philharmonic Orchestra and guest choirs that will be appearing throughout the run.

What first struck me entering the venue was how the massive the set was. The set was three floors high and had islands and bridges that extended into the audience. I think that it would be better to pick a seat at the back to fully see what is going on. This became more evident as the play progressed as so many things were happening on stage that it was pretty hard to look back and forth and take everything in.

Miguel Faustman, himself a veteran of various versions of “A Christmas Carol,” plays the miser Ebenezer Scrooge. The character fits him like a glove. This time, though, there is a menacing quality to his Scrooge.

“Miss Saigon” and “American Idiot” veteran Ariel Reonal plays Scrooge’s doomed partner Jacob Marley. The first appearance of the character is scary and sets the tone for the rest of the ghosts.

Norby David’s Ghost of Christmas Past was playful and lithe, bringing Scrooge back to happier times and showing his eventual descent into a miserable human being.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, ably played by Franz Imperial, brought Scrooge to the present, showing how yuletide joy could be found despite the dark setting. This is where I thought the production dragged on a bit due to extended dance numbers and borderline bawdy set pieces.

And then there’s Ela Lisondra’s Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come, a silent graceful harbinger of the fires of damnation. Don’t blink during this sequence as things happen very quickly.

It’s rare to rave about the special effects in a local theater production but 9 Works Theatrical was not shy about showing off their technical mastery. From little touches like changing window colors to denote multiple timelines to terror inducing phantasms, digital projection, sound design and lights come together to repackage an old story into a spectacle today’s audience can appreciate.

A surprise on Christmas morning on stage with the cast singing the last song makes for one of the most joyful finales I have ever seen on a local stage.

It would’ve been easy to make this another corny production yet this was a grand ensemble play with so many movie parts. 9Works Theatrical and Globe Live have elevated “A Christmas Carol” into a magical, big-budget, light and sound musical spectacle.

Yet with all its shiny trimmings, “A Christmas Carol” doesn’t lose its heart.

“A Christmas Carol” opens Saturday and runs weekends at the Globe Iconic Store in Bonifacio High Street Central until December 25.

NOTE: This was originally published as http://news.abs-cbn.com/life/12/03/16/review-a-christmas-carol-is-haunting-yet-spectacular

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