Photo by Jeff Knapp

Sean Cullen, left, as Marley and Julia Register as Bogleare appear in a scene from “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.” 

'Tis the season!

Boy, is it ever! Even before the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, Christmas & Co. is in full swing throughout the Upper Delaware River region—and beyond. Although Hanukkah is early this year, (12/13) I’m rarely overwhelmed by latkes, dreidels and chocolate coins, but Christmas? Uh huh. This year, however, I’ve decided to embrace the onslaught, ignore blatant consumerism and revel in the magic of the holiday season, especially when seen through the eyes of a child. Opportunities were abundant over the last few days for just that, and I took in a Christmas-themed show (www.shadowlandstages.org a festive shopping extravaganza (www.bethelwoodscenter.org) and a visit with the fat man himself (www.facebook.com/santaexpress).

The show is “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” being presented through December 17 by Shadowland Stages in Ellenville, NY, and I was long overdue for a visit. In fact, I hadn’t been since before the renovations, and while the art deco theatre is stunning and comfortable, the real magic of the season is occurring on stage.

Playwright Tom Mula’s wildly creative spin on the Charles Dickens classic is (according to the program) “now told from a very unusual point of view.” The audience, it says, will “find out just what happened to Scrooge’s wicked business partner as he takes his own theatrical voyage,” but I was not prepared for the dark, disturbing (and sometimes terribly amusing) journey. Directed with stylish, creative flair by Brendan Burke, this demonic version of “A Christmas Carol” will be forever seared into my consciousness, and all thoughts of Mr. Magoo and Tiny Tim have been banished forever. It was originally conceived as a one-man show, but Burke has chosen to use four incredibly talented actors, all of whom portray multiple characters. Sean Cullen (Marley), Paul Murphy (Scrooge), and David Stallings (Record Keeper) are all fabulous (I mean fabulous!) while Julia Register soars above scenic designer Josh Christensen’s imaginative London town as Bogle, a “malicious little hell sprite with an agenda of his own.”

To further put his stamp on the production, Burke has chosen to add a fifth character to the show: Foley sound consultant Wayne Pyle. Named after sound-effects artist Jack Foley, these “reproduced sounds can be anything from the swishing of clothing and footsteps to squeaking doors and breaking glass” (www.wikipedia.com). I had an opportunity after the show to discuss the sound with the director.

“The entire cast and crew has participated,” Burke told me. “It just seemed like a good idea and everyone has come up with incredible suggestions, which we are continually adding to the show with each performance.” A good idea? You bet. The audience is allowed to see how the effects are created by the performers themselves, and I was just plain blown away. The show is also beautifully lit by designer Jeremy Johnson, so—make a reservation. This (IMHO) is what theatre is all about.

On Saturday, Dharma and I went to Bethel Woods to take in the sights and sounds of the annual Holiday Market, where Mr. Claus visits with the kids by an open fire while thousands of adults shop local amid the vast array of hand and home-made goodies. While the dog waited on line to sit on Santa’s lap , I made the rounds, bought myself a gift and schmoozed with friends. “Where are you off to now?” asked Ellany Gable (www.honeyhillpottery.com) as husband (and fellow potter) Franco LoPinto assisted customers at the Bethel Council of the Arts (like ‘em on Facebook!) booth. “The Santa Express!” I shouted above the din. “I’ve been looking forward to seeing the Snow Queen for months!”

Each year Santa gathers his army of volunteers and heads out to a town near you on the Santa Express, with elves, princesses, Disney characters, gingerbread men, Mrs. Claus and thousands of twinkling lights, further enhanced by music and performers, enthralling children and adults with a holiday spectacular that is unrivalled in the Catskills. Having just been in Liberty, NY, the express then pulled into the station in Bethel, and as the crowd swelled the entertainment began. The Santa Express literally delivers comfort and joy to thousands each year, and it made my (bah humbug) heart swell to observe the unadulterated happiness reflected in the shining faces taking it all in as the Snow Queen sang to her subjects and the kids got to take part in the show.

Santa will be out next weekend as well. For a detailed schedule visit www.face book.com/santaexpress or check The River Reporter’s Holiday Gift Guide, available at local businesses during the month of December.

Go. See. Do. ‘Tis the season!

[For an album of Santa Express photos visit www.facebook.com/theriverreporter.]

 

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