REVIEW: DTC’s feminist ‘Christmas Carol’

sally-nystuen-vahle-as-scrooge-photo-by-karen-almond

Sally Nystuen Vahle as Scrooge (Photo by Karen Almond)

Ebenezer Scrooge’s name immediately conjures a dour, angular, mean physicality. You can see his pointy chin, his narrow, flinty eyes, his thin-lipped scowl.

Only the Scrooge at the Wyly Theatre now, courtesy of Dallas Theater Center‘s annual production of A Christmas Carol, isn’t a he at all, but a she. It’s not just gender-blind casting: DTC has had women play Jacob Marley before, as well as a host of the Ghosts of Christmases, and Tiny Tim is often played by a little girl. No, this Ebenezer definitely has two X chromosomes — “Miss Scrooge,” her terrified workers call her. He last surviving relative isn’t Nephew Fred, but Niece Lucy; even the Fezziwigs appear to be a partnership.

Hey, Hillary mightn’t’ve risen to the top, but these revisionist Dickens characters have.

And it definitely adds a new layer to the psychology of Scrooge.

How he got to think of holidays as a humbug has never fully wrung true. Yes, young Scrooge was abandoned by a remote dad, and he lost his devoted sister Fanny; even his fiancee abandoned him. But only after money had driven him cold. His miserliness drove people away, not the other way around.

But now, we see Miss Scrooge as the embodimentliz-mikel-gabrielle-reyes-ace-anderson-chamblee-ferguson-photo-by-karen-almond of The Bitch Conundrum: A powerful man is seen as decisive; a powerful woman as a bitch. Breaking that glass ceiling was sure to imbed some shards.

It’s a lovely little twist on the familiar tale, given a lot of life by Sally Nystuen Vahle as the top-hatted Ebby with perpetual smirk. Kevin Moriarty has updated his adaptation, jointly presenting the dual crises of the Industrial Revolution and the Sexual Revolution — Ebenezer Steinem, by way of The Jungle. The cold, heartless weight of the age linger more than even prior versions of this production, and not always in a good way. Bob Cratchit (here more foreman than bookkeeper, played by Alex Organ) all but disappears into the background of steam engines and furnaces; during the opening scenes, you even lose some dialogue to all the busy-ness on the stage.

But it does provide a striking counterpoint when the set begins to twinkle in colored lights and smiling harmonies as Miss Scrooge’s heart melts away. I see it every year, and every year it gets to me.

Vahle is terrific, of course, by so in Chamblee Ferguson, taking on a variety of small roles (Scrooge’s valet, Mr. Fezziwig, etc.) and proving how brilliant character work doesn’t depend on lots of lines, but rather inventive choices. He, like this version of the show itself, proves that there’s always room to be surprised.

At the Wyly Theatre through Dec. 28.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Like virgins

Turtle Creek Chorale channels its inner Madonna — and other women throughout history — for its latest concert

Madonna9-CUT-OUT

STRIKE A POSE | The chorale gets into the groove Sunday performing Madonna songs, but the concert honors many women throughout history.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Trey Jacobs knew exactly who he had in mind when forging the concept of the upcoming Turtle Creek Chorale concert Madonna to Madonna: The Ageless Strength of Women. The show was conceived to feature music that honors women from the Virgin Mary to the queen of pop. Iconic as they are, Jacobs looked to high school for the women who made him the person he is today — besides Mom, of course.

“As a musician, my role model was my high school choral director Jane Price,” says the TCC’s interim conductor. “She taught me how to express emotion through music.”

Thus, Jacobs will take a cue from Madge and express himself with a selection of Madonna songs — and then some.

Jacobs took over the chorale after the season outline had already been set. Running the gamut of women throughout history, from antiquity to the contemporary, was not his idea. But he expanded the idea to make his own mark.

“There was no music selected yet,” he says. “For me, it was about trying to pair [the idea] with a concept that would resonate with people. And it became this show that truly honors women.”

With a set-list that goes from Rachmaninoff to Shania Twain, the chorale teams up with some special guests for a unique experience. Enlisting the help of local singers Patty Breckenridge and Sally Vahle, New York musician Nisha Asnani and Cathedral of Hope’s the Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson, the ladies add the appropriate feminine touch to the show.

While people are scrambling to get loan approval for Madonna tickets in October, there is a distinct curiosity for how the TCC boys will be pulling off some of her greatest hits. There will even be some “chorale-ography” involved.

“They’ll be singing ‘Open Your Heart,’ ‘Dress You Up,’ ‘Papa Don’t Preach,’” says Joe Rattan, who also does the chorale’s marketing. “Oh, and ‘Vogue.’”

Rattan and Jacobs confirm that the TCC men will, in fact, be vogueing.

Clearly Madonna is a big draw for any gay event, but both men are sure to note that the inspiration of this show isn’t just about the material girl or even just about the Virgin Mary.

“The show runs the full emotional gamut,” Rattan says. “It’s very touching, there are some funny moments. Trey really breathed life into it to be this and has done a wonderful job. The guys are excited and inspired by what they are singing and I’ve been moved by what I heard.”

Jacobs assures that a concert about women by men won’t miss the point.

“I had talks with the chorale and many of them would talk about these female role models,” he says. “Sometimes it was a strong character from a movie or musical, or more personal, but it was fascinating to hear all these different men talk about women in such reverence. That’s what this is about.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 2, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas