'Ebenezer' a display of holiday spirit
Charles Dickens’ famous novella, “A Christmas Carol,” is as synonymous with Christmas as decorating a tree, baking cookies and singing carols on cold, wintry December nights.
The story has had many adaptations on the theater stage and in film, but its basic theme remains the same: Ebenezer Scrooge is a crusty, cruel and crestfallen man who is continually confounded by the cheer displayed by the townsfolk during the Christmas season.
Can this bitter old man learn the errors of his ways? Can he learn to love others and, just as importantly, allow others to love him before he passes on? Can he discover before it’s too late that love for his fellow humans is infinitely more rewarding than his long-lived love for money?
The answers to these questions – plus 90 minutes worth of singing, dancing and joyful entertainment – are revealed nightly, except Mondays, through Dec. 27 in “Ebenezer, A Musical Christmas Carol,” in the Eldorado Theatre at the Eldorado Resort Casino.
The show is closely based on Dickens' original novella, which was published in 1843.
“It’s very true to the manuscript from Dickens,” said David Discenza, who plays the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. “It’s also important to note that this is a true musical where the music actually moves the story forward. It’s not a jukebox musical where the music is thrown in for entertainment value, where you could pull the music out of the story and the story would be intact. In a true musical like this, if you pull out the music, you lose the whole show.”
The music and lyrics is an original score created by William and Rosemary Novellino-Mearns, who was a dance captain for years at the Radio City Music Hall Ballet Company.
This particular musical appeared briefly on Broadway with John Davidson playing Scrooge, and also last year in Atlantic City with Discenza playing Scrooge.
“This production has not been done very often. I can count on one hand how many times it’s been done over the last 20 years,” said Discenza, a native of New Jersey.
That show and the one now appearing at the Eldorado both feature director Paula Sloan, who has choreographed shows at the Eldorado, including “Grease” and “42nd Street.”
“I’ve worked six or seven shows with Paula,” said Discenza, 52. “She’s one of my favorite directors to work with. She is wonderful at setting the stage in motion and creating scenes within scenes. She’s able to create interest at all points of the stage at all times.”
Sloan expertly uses lights, costumes, fog machines, and dance to create a musical journey that leaves no room for lulls as Scrooge is unexpectedly greeted by four ghosts who, unbeknownst at first to Scrooge, offer the curmudgeon a new chance at life. The show features a cast of 16 performers.
With a nod to Dickens’ story-telling and beliefs on the human condition, Discenza said he believes this classic tale can inspire people to treat one another better and that there always is hope that a person may change.
“My favorite theme of the story is one of the more subtle themes that run though it and that’s ‘Nobody is really beyond reach,’” he said. “For example, take (Scrooge’s nephew) Fred, who through all of Scrooge’s life is trying to reach the old man and warm his heart.
“I think the most important message is when you see somebody who has withdrawn, such as Scrooge, there’s a reason for it. Nobody is born that way. You look at infants. They’re pure love. But over time, you become cold. You turn yourself off and you don’t realize it. Nobody chooses to be miserable.
“The people who love that type of person, the people who love Scrooge despite himself, it’s kind of their obligation to keep reaching out, to try and help him get over that and to help them see what’s really important.”
It’d be nice if, after more than 150 years since publication of “A Christmas Carol,” situations such as that in the story wouldn’t be commonplace. But, alas, Discenza said, it still is.
“I also think what really makes the story so timeless is, unfortunately, the story of materialism and greed taking over the human condition hasn’t changed much over time,” he said.
But the fact that this story has provided so much joy and happiness to so many people over so many years leaves Discenza hopeful for change.
“Life is all about doing the right thing and trying to connect with other people,” he said. “This is one of those shows that I believe can not only change people but can change society if enough people would just grasp the message and try to live it instead of just saying, ‘Yeah, that would be nice but it will never happen.’ The challenge is to reach out to other people and try to make the world a better place. Keep reaching out to the people who need it because they’re not that way by choice. And they can change. I’ve seen it happen in my own life. It takes work, but they can change. This show brings us back to our humanity. It’s entertaining and has a powerful message. That’s why it’s such a timeless classic.”