Every self-respecting gay theater fan knows about Wicked, the Gregory Maguire book turned hit Broadway musical that provides the backstory to the Wicked Witch of the West before Dorothy ever landed in Oz.
Tom Mula’s Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, which opened last weekend at Actors Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables, similarly provides the backstory to Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, told through the eyes of Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghoulish former partner.
Carbonell Award-winner Ken Clement tackles the one-man show, capably portraying Marley, as well as the narrator and 16 other roles, ranging from the Bogle, his miniature guide in the spirit, to Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.
While Dickens’ story of Scrooge’s holiday transformation has inspired parodies and send-ups for decades—nearly every sitcom on TV has featured a Christmas special based on the tale, along with dozens of Lifetime movies—Maguire’s approach is fresh and reveals Marley’s own salvation in the process.
Clement’s flamboyant manner leads the audience through the story as he deftly switches characters on a dime. His turns are staged on a minimalist set from Gene Seyffer, a series of rounded platforms sparsely decorated with a small desk and antique chair, and a trunk and screen that primarily serve as storage place for all sorts of clever props. At one point, I fully expected Clement to pull his prized Carbonell from the trunk—he’s been known to do that before! Overhead, dozens of tiny lanterns twinkle like stars in the night.
While the set provides an imaginative blank canvas for Director David Arisco, Patrick Tennent’s carefully considered lighting design and accompanying sound design from Alexander Herrin provide the magic, accentuating every nuance of Clement’s performance and setting the scenes at every turn. At many South Florida theaters, the technical categories are often a neglected afterthought at best, but here they are integral to the success of the production.
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol pushes both the actor and the audience through a dizzying 87 minute journey and I couldn’t help but wonder how the play could effectively be transformed into a larger musical or even a movie. For now, however, it’s a refreshing new addition to the holiday tradition, joining A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, The Messiah and even the 24-hour TV marathon of A Christmas Story.
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol
Now through January 1
Actors Playhouse at Miracle Theatre
280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables
Tickets $35-48 at ActorsPlayhouse.org