Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review: A Christmas Carol -- Hartford Stage

Photo: T. Charles Erickson
A Christmas Tale That Lifts Spirits --  Literally
By Lauren Yarger
Just how many times can you see Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol?

Apparently quite a few (more than 250,000 have seen the Michael Wilson adaptation getting its 16th run at Hartford Stage). This year’s annual holiday tradition gets a bit of an update, all supervised by Wilson and directed by Maxwell Williams, that includes redesigned costumes; enhanced flying effects and choreography for the ghostly apparitions; the introduction of additional characters; and the latest in lighting design technology.
Bill Raymond returns to play Ebenezer Scrooge, whose obsession with making money in A Victorian London that has prisons and workhouses for those not fortunate to have any,  has turned him into a mean, unpleasant man who has no desire to help his fellow man. Raymond plays all evening performances while Charles Turner is Scrooge for the student matinees.

Scrooge pays his clerk, Bob Cratchit (a humble and moving Robert Hannon Davis) virtually nothing on which to support his large and destitute family (Rebecka Jones is Mrs. Cratchit and Ethan Pancoast and Fred Thornley IV rotate in the role of poor crippled Tiny Tim). He has no regard for his charwoman, Mrs. Dilber (Noble Shropshire) or for local merchants Bettye Pidgeon (Johanna Morrison), Bert (Alan Rust) or Mr Marvel (Michael Preston), all who are forced to give up some of their wares on Christmas Eve as collateral against debts they owe the old miser.

Scrooge doesn’t even have any regard for the Christmas greetings and annual invite to dinner bestowed on him by his nephew, Fred (an affable Curtis Billings) and his wife (Gillian Williams), even though Fred is the son of his late and beloved, sister, Fan (Lauren Cassot or Allegra Rosa).

This Christmas, some spirits fly in (Flying effects by ZFX, Inc.) and give him a look at the past, when he was a happy boy and young man engaged to a beautiful woman, the present, where he discovers he isn’t kindly regarded and the future, which looks bleak for both him and Tiny Tim.

It’s an interesting adaptation, focusing on the ghosts and this year’s version seems a bit more scary with new lighting and loud sound effects.  The story never grows old. There is something magical about witnessing Scrooge’s change of heart (but Raymond rushes the lines during the transformation scene so much that you almost might miss it). Scores of Harrt students and local youngsters round out the large ensemble and you can’t help leave with a little holly around your heart.

The cast:
Bill Raymond…. Ebenezer Scrooge (evening performances)

Charles Turner…. Ebenezer Scrooge (student matinees)

Curtis Billings…. Fred, Young Scrooge;

Robert Hannon Davis…. Bob Cratchit

Rebecka Jones…. Mrs. Fezziwig, Mrs. Cratchit

Sarah Killough….Ghostly Apparition; Fred’s Sister-In-Law

Johanna Morrison…. Bettye Pidgeon, Spirit of Christmas Past, Old Josie

Michael Preston…. Mr. Marvel

Alan Rust…. Bert, Spirit of Christmas Present, Mr. Fezziwig

Noble Shropshire…. Mrs. Dilber, Jacob Marley

Charlie Tirrell…. First Solicitor, Undertaker

Gillian Williams…. Fred’s Wife, Belle

Student actors from The Hartt School…. Lexi Alioto, Jenny Brescia, Patrick Chittendon, Alex Dilallo, Jacob Grannan, Michael Coale Grey, James Hussey, Laura Sue Johnson, Timothy
Longo, Rebecca Maddy, Andrew Mazer, Madison Obery, Emmaline Riley, and Julian Sarria.

Local youngsters:  Ethan Pancoast and Fred Thornley IV (rotating the role of Tiny Tim). Other youth actors include Sophie Alter, Tiana N. Bailey, Alexander Bilodeau, Luciana Calcagno, Lauren Cassot, Meg Conner, Bridget Dawson, Padraigh Fitzgerald, Miranda Flood, Silvan Friedman, Tyra Harris, Campfield Heinrich, Emily May, Aidan McMillan, Dermot McMillan, Eric Murphy, Allegra Rosa, Ankit Roy, Ava Rozmajzl, Aleksei Sandals, Ben Stone-Zelman, Brandon Szep, John Henry Wenz and Sammy Wetstein.

There are a few ways to enhance the experience as well with some special packages available form Hartford Stage:
· A Christmas Carol Experience – Enjoy unlimited hot cocoa, fill up a bag at the pre-show candy Bar, decorate a cookie at intermission and take photos with real costumes from the show. $10 per person (in addition to purchase of ticket for selected performances). December 14, 15, 21 and 22 matinee performances.

· Behind the Magic – The production staff hosts a behind-the-scenes look at all the amazing special effects that make ghosts soar through the air, snow fall and more. Dec. 15 at 4 pm. $5 per person (in addition to purchase of ticket for Dec. 15 matinee performance).

· Family Fun Night – The ghosts will greet and entertain. After the show, get autographs from all your favorite characters! Thursday, Dec. 19 at 6:30 pm. Free with purchase of ticket for evening performance on Dec. 19.

· Market Days – Get all of your holiday shopping done at Hartford Stage. Local vendors will showcase unique gift items in our lobby, free to the public from 12:30-2 pm. Buy a ticket for the matinee performance of A Christmas Carol and have an extra chance to shop during intermission and post-show. Sunday, Dec. 15.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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