Theater / Film
Review of ‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol’: A captivating one-man performance in a heartwarming production
Among his many roles, Colin McPhillamy portrays the Ghost of Christmas Present in “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo courtesy of Justin Namon)
Since time immemorial, theater has been a storytelling art form. Just now, a potent and sometimes poignant reminder of that truth is onstage in Miami at the Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater, where “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” is running through Dec. 19, 2021.
City Theatre’s production of the play by Tom Mula stars actor Colin McPhillamy in 18 distinct roles: that of the title character as well as a host of others from the 1843 Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.”
Although a short intermission affords him a wee break (as his Scottish-accented character, Bogle, might put it), the British actor spends nearly two hours doing the theatrical equivalent of running a marathon. The solo show tests the stamina, skills and interpretive invention of even the most experienced performer, but the captivating McPhillamy quickly immerses the audience in his version of a beloved holiday tale.
Playwright Mula’s wrinkle is to share the Dickens story from the perspective of Jacob Marley, the late business partner to Ebenezer Scrooge. Marley, though dead, appears in “A Christmas Carol,” of course, but here he’s the star of the show.
Dealing with the Record Keeper, an embodiment of everlasting fate, Marley gets a final chance to avoid going straight to hell. He’ll have 24 hours to get the old skinflint to repent, to change Scrooge’s heart. Otherwise, he’s doomed.
Accompanying Marley on his fool’s errand is the Bogle, a tiny troublemaker of a spirit. He’s impishly portrayed by McPhillamy, who glues his upper arms to each side, rapidly flapping his hands as though they were miniature wings.
Using his malleable voice, movement and facial expressions, McPhillamy shifts instantly from Marley to Scrooge, evoking scenes from “A Christmas Carol.” Likewise, he becomes a Cockney kid as the Ghost of Christmas Past, a warm presence as the Ghost of Christmas Present, a frightening figure as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
In theater, bringing even the best solo storytelling to life takes a village, and McPhillamy has an impressive group of collaborators.
Artistic director Margaret M. Ledford has helped the actor to define and clarify each character, precisely differentiating the emotional moods of the script. Sometimes, she has him scurry over the faux stone steps and ramps of Norma Castillo O’Hep’s nostalgic set. She has him dip into a trunk to pull out the chains Marley forged in life, then brings him briefly to rest behind a podium or a small table.
Matt Corey’s soundscape is a vital part of the production, serving up church bells, a swirling wind or a closing door at precisely the right time. Likewise, Eric Nelson’s lighting helps define location shifts, and his tight green-lit focus on Marley’s face as the old man begins his terrorizing of Scrooge is priceless. Though multiple costume changes aren’t possible with the lightning pace of McPhillamy’s character transformations, designer Ellis Tillman simply and effectively suggests the Victorian era with one look and several add-on pieces.
At a matinee over the weekend, McPhillamy’s often spell-binding performance was interrupted a number of times as audience members – sometimes several people at a time – decided that they just had to walk out right then for a bathroom break or a snack or maybe because they got tired of listening to an artist telling them a story. Trouble is, beyond that rudeness, leaving the Carnival Studio Theater mid-performance is a noisy proposition, as the theatergoer thumps down the audience riser, then click-clacks over the wooden floor to the exit door.
The actor, the heartwarming production and your fellow audience members deserve better.
To read Christine Dolen’s preview for this play, click here.
WHAT: “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” by Tom Mula
WHEN: 7:30 p.m Thursdays-Fridays, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays (no matinee Dec. 11), and 3 p.m. Sundays; through Dec. 19, 2021
WHERE: City Theatre production in the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
COST: $50 and $55
SAFETY PROTOCOLS: Masks and either a recent negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination required. For more details, visit arshtcenter.org/Visit/health-safety-covid-19.
INFORMATION: 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org