Rim Rock Opera Delights at Circle Theatre

So much holiday fare leaves a flat taste in the mouth like last year’s store-bought sugar cookies. It’s got all the razzle-dazzle of tinsel, shiny ornaments and consumerist frenzy but misses the true heart and soul of the holiday by a country mile.

Hitch your team of mules to your buckboard and trot on over to Circle Theatre at Sundance Square in Ft. Worth. Their holiday offering, the world premiere of the “rim rock opera” A Lone Star Christmas, will tickle your funny bone, please your ear, keep your toe tapping, drive a tear down your cheek and honor the core of the love lesson mean ol’ Scrooge learns in the classic Dickens tale.

Combining bluegrass, swing, country ballad, and a cappella voicing, it’s stitched together by a kindly, homespun storyteller (Gary Moody, who also penned the book and lyrics), who steps in and out of the action at appropriate moments, Circle’s production offers a gentle unfolding of the adaptation. It sways along in tempo with the Taylor-Made Boys’ guitars and upright bass (Charles Crawford, Rick Norman & Gary Taylor), poised upstage for much of the show like at a West Texas barn dance.

Sound corny? Not a bit. It’s more fun than a “horned frog on a red ant hill.” The cast of six plays multiple roles, sings non-stop and strolls in and out with easy grace as the narrator unfolds his story. The humorous, dire fate of Jacob Marley (played with charm and gusto by Jeff McGee) contrasts vividly with the poignant daydreams of Mrs. Cratchit, and Scrooge’s loss of his life’s love Belle as the love of money overtakes him. The singing voices, while not always perfect, please the ear and fit the musical style. One song “Oh Ebenezer/ Lie to Me” hints at the rhythmical complexity of Sondheim and makes you want to holler out ‘encore’ with its melodious harmonies and soaring sadness. John Venable, a tall, slim handsome drink of water in tight jeans, delivers an outstanding vocal performance with tender interpretation of Scrooge as younger Ebenezer and as Bob Cratchit. Burl Proctor as older Scrooge brings a rough-edged vigor to the role, equally at home center stage nasty and growling or pleading his case trailing after a ghost. He makes the redemptive transition believable. Director Chris Robinson keeps the scene transitions snappy while honoring the overarching gentle tempo of the piece. Eddie Floresca’s choreography flows smooth and natural, and Drenda Lewis’ cheerful costume choices define characters and mood alike. The versatile stage ensemble includes: Rachel Rice, Heatherton Hardy Wilson, John Venable, Burl Proctor, Jeff McGee and Gary Moody.

Take a break from the rush, crush and commercial frenzy. Remember what richness of joy love and generosity can bring this season with Circle Theatre’s A Lone Star Christmas Carol.

CD’s of the music, produced and performed by Gary Taylor and Lloyd Maines are available in the theatre lobby.

A Lone Star Christmas Carol, book by Gary Moody, music and lyrics by Gary Taylor and Gary Moody, runs through December 19. Reservations: 817.877.3040 or http://www.circletheatre.com

PHOTO: Front row:  Rachel Rice, Heatherton Hardy Wilson
Second row:  John Venable, Burl Proctor, Jeff McGee
Third row:  Gary Moody, Gary Taylor

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