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Jubilee delivers twist on Dickens’ Christmas classic

December 4,2019

See full Cleburne Times-Review article by Matt Smith here.

Christmas season opportunities abound for shared holiday experiences among family and friends both in Cleburne and beyond.

In the realm of live theatre, “White Christmas” continues it’s Plaza Theatre Co. run through Dec. 23 as does, albeit not strictly Christmas related, “Frozen Jr.” 

Elvis tribute artist Kraig Parker will also be on hand Dec. 21 at Plaza Main Street to perform a bevy of Presley Yuletide favorites. Also not strictly Christmas related is Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players’ production of “Over the River and Through the Woods,” which opens Friday and runs through Dec. 15.

Anyone still in the Christmas spirit and up for a road trip would fare well to head Cowtown’s way where several Christmas themed productions are underway or soon to open including Jubilee Theatre’s take on Ekundayo Bandele’s “If Scrooge Was A Brother,” which runs through Dec. 22.

Though the title suggests farcical comic possibility, the play plays largely serious, darker, and at times more pointed, than traditional holiday fare. But also, once all is said and done, equally fulfilling, and heartwarming. Seriousness aside, the play is also not without laugh-out-loud moments.

“Scrooge” refracts Dickens’ 1843 “A Christmas Carol” through the looking glass of modern-day African-American experience. Along the way it retains enough of the source material to keep parts of the original tale intact while at the same time veering just enough to keep things interesting.

Ebenezer Scrooge is now not so elderly miser Eb Scroo (J.R. Bradford), proprietor of Scroo Real Estate. The action opens Christmas Eve day though, as Scroo insists, ‘My calendar says tomorrow is Wednesday, not Christmas.”

Scroo inherited the company, which specializes in shady home loans targeting the less fortunate, from his now deceased mentor Marley (Jamall Houston.)

If Scroo comes off slightly less cold hearted than the Scrooge of Dickens’ novella he nonetheless harbors no qualms over evicting the very customers who have fattened his wallet through the years while at the same time ignoring his nephew Fred (Nathan D. Thurman) and fretting over his inability to be accepted into the town’s white country club. 

Throughout, Bradford delivers the pitch-perfect mix of arrogance, confusion and, given his attempts to justify his actions, dismay befitting his character.

Scroo’s neglect of and put downs of his own family and neighbors coupled with his attempts to assimilate into the white establishment shock at times as does his apparent blindness toward humanity and decency.

Finally fed up to the point of choosing morality over job security, longtime employee Bob Cratchit (Ron Johnson), exclaims, “You can help me Scroo. But I can’t for the life of me understand why you won’t help yourself” 

Bell (Asia Washington), a potential love interest the younger Scroo is too focused on money and status to appreciate, informs Scroo, to no avail, that it’s not what you own, but what you have that matters.

Christmas Eve night visits from the ghost of Marley and the spirits of Christmas past, present and future set to right the course of Scroo’s soul before it’s too late.  Elsewhere, the play delves into racism and current African-American issues sometimes poignantly so though at others a bit aimlessly. 

In the overall, however, “Scrooge” succeeds in imparting festive spectacle and food for thought.

Anyone who’s read the book or seen the countless film or play adaptations it inspired knows the ending. No spoilers from me for those who haven’t other than to report that “If Scrooge Was A Brother’s” denouement satisfies and to warn that a tear or two might be forthcoming.

Fantastic throughout too is the music, a selection of traditional Christmas carols and secular tunes employed to move along and/or accentuate certain plot points. 

Credit set designer Kenneth Ellis’ imaginative use of basically the same set pieces to enhance and keep the scenes fresh. Credit, too, the actors, most of whom perform several roles. Not to mention musicians Steven Taylor, Joseph Love and Josh Willis who bring it providing those same actors the opportunity to deliver several show stopper numbers.

A visit to Jubilee and subsequent stroll through Sundance Square’s festive holiday decorations is a surefire way to send the Christmas blues packing.

Location Mentioned: Jubilee Theatre