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Chicago talent soars in ‘A Christmas Carol’ TV concert


Highly recommended

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: WTTW-Channel 11

Running time: 90 minutes

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Updated: December 19, 2013 8:54AM

Just when you think you’ve had your seasonal fill of Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley and the Cratchit family — whether dressed up in classic Victorian finery or naughtily thrust into hip-hop mode — along comes yet another interpretation of Charles Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol,” and it apmakes you sit bolt upright and listen to the familiar story with renewed pleasure.

Best of all, this production is free, and is designed so that you can watch it in the comfort of your own home yet also feel very much like part of a larger audience.

“A Christmas Carol: The Concert,” produced by Scott Silberstein and his Chicago-based HMS Media (winner of 17 Emmy Awards), is a glorious new musical version of the classic that takes its cue from the hugely successful “Live from Lincoln Center” programs. Like those artful shows, it is a recording of a stellar dramatic concert presented before a live audience and then aired over PBS stations.

In this case, Silberstein and director Matt Hoffman have assembled mostly Chicago-area talent for a powerhouse rendering of a new staged concert version of the Dickens classic that features soaring music and orchestrations by Bob Christianson (co-composer of the hit “Too Hot to Handel”); a vivid, crystal-clear adaptation and lyrics by Alisa Hauser; a splendid orchestra impeccably conducted by Amy Duran, and members of the Elmhurst College Concert Choir and Chicago Children’s Choir under Susan Moninger.

In addition, the handsomely staged and filmed concert (recorded this past May at Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts), features a formidable cast, with Chicago diva E. Faye Butler in command as the galvanic Narrator who can turn speech into music; Michael Lindner as a ferocious, clarion-voiced, Scrooge who bears echoes of Sweeney Todd; the easily charismatic Kyle Scatliffe (recently seen in the London production of “The Scottsboro Boys”) as Marley and the ever-morphing series of ghosts who visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve (and whose songs range from gospel and blues to pop-rock and Broadway in style); Scott Coulter as Bob Cratchit and Scrooge’s irrepressible nephew, Fred; and the fervent Arya Daire as Belle, the woman Scrooge loved but lost to his obsessive greed.

Expertly staged by Lookingglass Theatre’s David Kersnar, the 90-minute concert, airing nationally this holiday season, gains immeasurably from Hoffman’s artful camera work which seamlessly and thrillingly moves from actors, to conductor and musicians, to the glowing, deeply immersed faces of the multi-generational audience.

Not surprisingly, plans are underway for a national tour of this piece during the 2014 holiday season, to be supported by re-broadcasts of the TV special.


Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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