Columns Sally Hogarty Stage Struck

Woodminster extends season with twist on Dickens classic

Woodminster extends season with twist on Dickens classic
Three-time Tony nominee Carolee Carmello stars in “Estella Scrooge.” Woodminster Amphitheater brings audiences this magical musical created with new cutting-edge technology through Jan. 31. (Photo Tyler Milliron)

Columns Sally Hogarty Stage StruckWoodminster Summer Musicals, which normally offers elaborate musicals at Woodminster Amphitheatre high atop the Oakland Hills, has gone virtual and well beyond the summer.

They are starting the new year with an extension of their fun holiday, offering “Estella Scrooge: A Christmas Carol with a Twist.”

Created by Tony and Olivier Award winner John Caird and Tony nominee Paul Gordon, the production uses cutting-edge technology to merge actual footage of the actors with 3-D surreal digital environments. The results are quite amazing.

Each actor was filmed separately against a green screen, and then ace editing by director of photography Tyler Milliron put the performers together for various scenes and musical numbers. It might not always blend as seamlessly as a scene shot with everyone in the same room, but it’s pretty close.

Produced by Streaming Musicals, the show features 24 award-winning Broadway notables. Betsy Wolfe is Estella, a descendent of her famous great-great-great-great-grandfather Ebenezer, played by six-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein.

Clifton Duncan stars in “Estella Scrooge” at Woodminster Amphitheater through Jan. 31. (Photo Tyler Milliron)

The story follows Estella, a modern-day Wall Street tycoon and head of Bleak House Corp. She decides to lower the boom personally on Christmas Eve to someone who has defaulted on his mortgage. When she arrives to foreclose, Estella discovers the “someone” is her childhood friend Pip Nickleby (Clifton Duncan), who runs a shelter for the disenfranchised called Heart House.

Forced to take shelter with Pip because of a freak snowstorm, Estella is given the haunted honeymoon suite. I think you know what comes next.

All of the cast members do a superb job of reacting to each other when, in reality, they are performing alone in a recording studio. Lush visuals and stirring vocals highlight the production.

To purchase tickets to “Estella Scrooge,” go to Reduce the ticket price by 45 percent by including the code DICKENS45. Thirty percent of the proceeds benefit Woodminster Summer Musicals.

Diablo Women’s Chorale

Looking for something to lift your spirits? The Diablo Women’s Chorale will hold auditions for all female voice parts via Zoom on Monday, Jan. 25, and Monday, Feb. 1, by appointment only. For information on membership and auditions, contact Nancy Hickman at 925-899-5050 or Find out more about the group at DiabloWomens­

Ghostlight Project

In 2017, on the eve of the inauguration, thousands of arts workers across the country gathered in community to create a “light” for dark times ahead and to make or renew a pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation and compassion for everyone regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, ability, age, gender identity or sexual orientation. Many of our local theaters joined in.

Named after the tradition of theaters keeping a single light on stage lit when the theater isn’t in use, the Ghostlight Project plans another gathering at 5 p.m. Jan. 19. Part pep rally and part teach-in, this virtual event will bring together artists and organizers from across the country to share actions and offer resources for the years ahead. For more information or to join the group action on Jan. 19, go to

Our own Brentwood theater company, Ghostlight Theatre Ensemble, uses this tradition for its name. While there are many stories as to the origin of the ghost light, the message is clear: The theater may now be empty, but we will return.

With multiple vaccines now being distributed, let’s hope that return isn’t too many months in the future.

Sally Hogarty is well known around the Bay Area as a newspaper columnist, theatre critic and working actress. She is the editor of the Orinda News. Send comments to