"A Christmas Carol" is a ghost story. And in "Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol," a ghost finally gets his say.
The show, written by Tom Mula, produced by City Theatre, and now on stage at the Carnival Studio Theatre at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, is a showcase for a tour-de-force performance by Colin McPhillamy, who, over the course of two hours, plays a dizzying array of characters — more than 18 — as he tells Jacob Marley’s story.
In Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale, Marley was the business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge, and "A Christmas Carol" begins on Christmas Eve, the seventh anniversary of Marley’s death. Marley is the first ghost to visit the miserly, compassionless Scrooge. He appears laden with chains, which, he explains, were forged, link by link, through all of his failings as a human being. Because he did not live a good life, his punishment is to wear the chains in death, for eternity. He encourages Scrooge to change his ways to avoid the same karmic fate.
In "Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol," the story begins on Marley’s first day in the afterlife, when he is told his fate. The good news is that Marley has one shot of redemption, and he’s not throwing away his shot.
Accompanying Marley is a sprite called a bogle, who at first gleefully torments him but then gets on board with Marley’s mission. McPhillamy’s portrayal of the bogle and the conversations between Marley and the sprite are some of the most delightful moments in the show.
What ensues is a fanciful tale, enthralling because of McPhillamy’s memorable performance. But "Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol" is more than just another retelling of Dickens’ story. It delves further into Marley’s life on Earth, painting a portrait of a lonely boy and man, and how in death he becomes the person he should have strove for in life.
McPhillamy’s performance is astonishing. He creates each character and floats seamlessly between them, using the few props at his disposal but never relying on them. His rich, resonant voice, his posture, and his comportment do all the work, changing with marvelous dexterity, giving each character a distinct manner and personality. Through his performance, he transports his audience into another world, one of darkness and shadows and fog, through the past, present, and future, through the streets of London and the universe above.
Eric Nelson’s lighting design enhances the mood of the show and creates memorable, menacing shadows, which become characters in their own right. Matt Corey’s sound design is evocative and helps creates distinct scenes. Margaret M. Ledford’s direction keeps the pace brisk and makes use of every part of Norma Castillo O’Hep’s striking, multi-level set. Ellis Tillman’s costumes are few, but a black cloak appears ominous even when it’s on a coat rack.
"Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol" gives a fresh perspective to a classic tale of hope and proves that it’s never too late to take a road trip to redemption. It’s great holiday fare, with the gift of McPhillamy’s brilliant performance at its heart.
"Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol" runs through December 19 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami. For tickets and more information, visit www.ArshtCenter.org.