A Christmas Carol and A Very Die Hard Christmas on stages this Holiday Season

Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by ghostly spirits on Christmas Eve. (L-R) Alan Bornemann (Ghost of Christmas Present), Ben Lupejkis (Ebenezer Scrooge), Scott Ruiz (Jacob Marley), Hayley Finch (Ghost of Christmas Part) in A Christmas Carol at the Long Beach Playhouse through December 23. (Photo by Michael Hardy Photography.)

By Shari Barrett

The perennial favorite A Christmas Carol has returned for its twelfth incarnation on the Mainstage at the Long Beach Playhouse, adapted and directed by Philip Brickey. In this quick-paced, highly theatrical retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, Ebenezer Scrooge accompanies ghostly spirits on a journey through his life. As he is shown the poverty of his material wealth and the blessings that come with generosity, Scrooge is finally convinced to change his ways before it’s too late.

Ben Lupejkis commands the stage from start to finish as he shares the emotional reactions of Scrooge to being shown his past, present and future selves after first experiencing a visit from his former partner Jacob Marley (perfectly inhabited by Scott Allen Ruiz as a chained and gray-skinned ghost) who warns Scrooge to change his ways or face a similar future as his – stuck haunting others for eternity. And how must Scrooge change? By learning that the true power in life is not living to make a profit, but learning the importance of loving and giving of yourself to others.

First visited by the wistful Ghost of Christmas Past (Hayley Finch), Scrooge is shown his unhappy childhood and his lost love Belle (Lisa Caperton). Thus, the audience gets to know from where Scrooge’s love of making a profit over everything else came to rule his life.

Ahmar Clark-Mansoor brings Scrooge’s office clerk, the big-hearted, over-worked and underpaid family man Bob Cratchit to life, especially when Scrooge watches with the Ghost of Christmas Present (Alan Bornemann) and sees how happy the Cratchit family is together despite their poverty. It’s a good lesson for Scrooge on the importance of loving others no matter your financial situation and how happy and emotionally rewarding that experience can be. This is also the scene during which Scrooge learns about Tiny Tim (Raymond Martinez), Cratchit’s handicapped youngest child who can only walk on one leg using a cane. And yet the child is always happy. 

Later when the larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge the heartbroken Cratchit family mourning the death of Tiny Tim, Scrooge begs the spirit to allow him to go back and change his ways so that he can dedicate his life to looking after not only Tiny Tim (so that he can walk again), but also the entire Cratchit family as well as his nephew Fred Hollowell (Chaz Breithaupt) and his loving wife Janet (Adriana Catanzarite), thus allowing Scrooge a way to celebrate a life with family love for the first time. 

Director Philip Brickey is to be commended for not only inspiring the joy and enthusiasm with which the entire cast embodies their characters but also for syncing the outstanding tech elements of the production. Movable set design pieces easily morph from Scrooge’s raised platform in his office to his bed where the spirits visit him, to his own gravesite in the future complete with rising fog!  Sound designer Sean Gray adds the chiming of bells to signal the arrival of ghosts to a plethora of supernatural sounds that set the eerie mood in many scenes. Historically correct costumes designed by Christina Bayer and Robert Sanchez add to the visual beauty of the production.

So come spend time with the beloved characters of A Christmas Carol – Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and of course the irascible miser himself to set you and your loved ones on the path to holiday cheer. Performances continue at the Long Beach Playhouse at 5021 E. Anaheim St. in Long Beach 90804 through December 23 on Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.. Tickets range from $20-$30, available at https://lbplayhouse.org/tickets/box-office or by calling 562-494-1014, option 1. Call for group rates. Free onsite parking. Call soon as performances are selling out!

Christmas is coming and so it’s time for that most L.A. of Christmas musicals, A Very Die Hard Christmas at Theatre 40. (L-R) Niek Versteeg, Sean Cowhig, Lauren Samuels, Kristal Dickerson, Raymund King, and Roslyn Cohn. (Photo credit: Sandro Monetti)

The new musical A Very Die Hard Christmas parodies the hit film Die Hard on the 35th anniversary of the popular action classic’s release. This real holiday crowd-pleaser with lots of laughs follows the story of New York cop John McClane (undershirt-clad Nick Versteeg) who flies to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve in 1988 to visit his estranged wife Holly (Lauren Samuels who really can belt out even the funniest of lyrics). But soon after he shows up at Nakatomi Plaza for her office party, terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Sean Cowhig) take over the building and it’s up to John to save the day from his vantage point hiding behind the building’s Christmas tree. 

The musical is written with new lyrics to classic melodies by Jeff Schell and The Habit, the Seattle-based comedy troupe that originated this show. Sandro Monetti directs and contributes additional dialogue with beloved reverence to the movie and its star, with original music by Elizabeth Rossi, costume design by Marianne Parker, and choreography by Hisato Masuyama.

Sandro’s cast for A Very Die Hard Christmas includes Nick Versteeg, Lauren Samuels, Sean Cowhig, Raymund King, Nick Bredosky, and Theatre 40 favorites Roslyn Cohn, Joe Clabby, and Kristal Dickerson. Each actor contributes the perfect mix of over-acting and outrageous characterizations to make this musical the perfect escape from your holiday blues. Especially of note are Roslyn Cohn and Nick Bredosky as Gruber’s sidekicks Helga and Helmut, two Germans whose antics had the audience in stitches each time they were assigned to do Gruber’s dirty work. Also of note are Joe Clabby as Holly’s coke-snorting boss Ellis, Raymond King as Joe Takagi, the rep from Nakatomi’s corporate office who becomes the first victim during the building’s takeover, and Kristal Dickerson as limo driver Argyle who makes the most of her one scene in that role!

In association with the production, a song I’m John McClane has been recorded with Niek Versteeg, composed by Flynn/Hopper. Proceeds from the single will be donated to charities fighting Aphasia, the disorder affecting Die Hard star Bruce Willis. You can see the music video for the song at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47YwkkNwzc0

The world premiere of A Very Die Hard Christmas is now playing at Theatre 40 on the campus of Beverly Hills High School, which is literally around the corner from the actual building used as the Nakatomi Plaza in the original film. Performances of the musical continue at Theatre 40, 241 S, Moreno Drive, in the Mary Levin Cutler Theatre on the campus of Beverly Hills High School at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 17 and Wednesday, December 20. Run time is one hour without an intermission. Tickets are $35 available online at http://theatre40.org, by calling (310) 364-3606, or at the box office prior to each performance. Free parking is available in the lot adjacent to the theatre’s entrance. To access the lot, enter through the driveway at the intersection of Durant and Moreno Drives and follow the signs.