The holiday spirit reigns at New American Theater with

The holiday spirit reigns at New American Theater with

By Theatre review

By Edith McCauley

Theater Critic

A sense of the season permeates New American Theater. Margaret Raether’s adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on the Mainstage and Christmas Cabaret conceived by Jerry Stevens, Kathy Stevens and Tim Anderson downstairs on Secondstage combine to bring audiences the traditional music and drama we look forward to each holiday season.

Jerry and Kathy Stevens have shared the stage since their days as “baby boomers”, and we have enjoyed their talents at Bellamy’s and at the Clock Tower Dinner Theatre. Kathy returns to Rockford after a three-and-a-half-year stint as a lead singer in the show band, The Torpedoes. Their collaboration with Tim Anderson, frequent accompanist and soloist at NAT, the Clock Tower and Rockford College, results in an evening of music and comedy true to the spirit of Christmas.

Anderson accompanies beautifully. As a singer himself, his feel for lyrics enhances every number. His story, told from a child’s viewpoint in Victorian Wales, incorporates the innocence and mystery of that time and place, and his narration throughout keeps the show focused.

The tightly knit show displays the versatility of the performers. Jerry and Kathy’s duets charm, and “The Night Before Christmas” segues into a comedy bit with old-time radio favorites, John and Blanche Bickerson. From the svelte man about town to the “Grinch,” Jerry is the complete professional, and Kathy clowns one moment and becomes a glamorous diva the next. Their tight harmony in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” rivals that of Louis Armstrong and Thelma Middleton. O’Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” a story of the true meaning of Christmas, gives them the opportunity to portray a loving couple who sacrifice a personal treasure for their mate. Their closing number, “It’s a Place Called Home,” is especially touching. Welcome home, Kathy.

The Saturday matinee, traditionally an audience of young people, fit the pattern at the performance of A Christmas Carol. There were a few gray heads, but youth prevailed. Margaret Raether’s interpretation of Dickens’ tale set in 19th century London, incorporates modern technology to create the eerie ghosts and spectres who haunt Scrooge. Red lights simulating flames, smoke drifting from doorways, and flashing explosions brought squeals of delight and laughter from the house.

Josh Burton’s Scrooge moves from testy and outrageous to mellow as he is reminded of those who brought love to his life. His antic behavior as he discovers “It was all a dream” enchants the children.

Douglas Mumaw, my all-time favorite Captain Hook, returns to a multiplicity of roles. He manages to become a distinguished Londoner, Marley’s Ghost, and the Ghost of Christmas Present, popping up in nearly every scene.

Another favorite, Rod MacDonald, plays Fezziwig with his typical joie de vivre. Bob Cratchit is played by Dan Rodden. A Chicagoan, I’ve seen him in Stephen Sondheim’s Passion at Pegasus Theatre. Last season, he was Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes and the Curse of the Sign of Four. Scott Rivers provides comic relief in his dual roles of Horace Beadle and Percy. The cast of young people from Bryan Keller as Tiny Tim to teenagers ready for the adult world of theatre give fine performances. Compliments to NAT for providing a showcase for those just learning their craft.

The only flaw in the performance, the sound, seemed a bit off. It may have been

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because I was seated on the side. It made the English accents somewhat difficult to understand.

The seasonal joy included Richard Raether’s delight in being appointed the new artistic director of NAT. Raether, a part of the company since its inception, knows the intricacies of the operation, and with Mary L. Beaver managing the “business”, he can devote his energies to directing and staging works that bring us top-notch entertainment.

A Christmas Carol plays through December 24 as does Christmas Cabaret. Call the box office at 815-964-6282.

Note: This past week, I received a card from Gary Wingert. He continues to tour with Mary Zimmerman’s highly successful The Odyssey. Their most recent run was at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in October and November.

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