Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Christmas Carol"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Beverly Creasey

Joyous "Christmas Carol" at New Rep

A Review by Beverly Creasey

If you’ve seen The Christmas Story and ChristmasTime and The Wonderful Life, not to mention The Miracle, you may be experiencing holiday theater fatigue, which is something akin to Seasonal Affective Disorder. I have the cure for you. It may sound like the hair of the dog that bit you but I assure you it isn’t. It will lift your spirit and renew your faith in mankind. It’s Rick Lombardo’s magical adaptation of Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL at New Repertory Theatre (through Dec. 23rd in the Watertown Arsenal Center for the Arts).

For those of you who saw it last year at New Rep, although it’s the same show with pretty much the same cast, Lombardo has added some lovely surprises, like a nightmare for poor old Mr. Scrooge (the inimitable Paul Farwell)--- and adorable silliness like having Neil Simon’s Pigeon Sisters visit Scrooge’s nephew (Terrence O’Malley radiating goodness and fair play). Even Topper (Eric Hamel) seems to have gotten friskier this time round. To my mind, there is nothing more delightful than seeing a beloved treasure through fresh eyes. Each year, Lombardo and company take a slightly different look at CAROL and it just gets better and better.

If you haven’t seen the New Rep’s charming version, you’ll be astounded by the cleverness of Peter Calao’s fluid set and the versatility of the actors, who narrate, swim into character and off into another persona in the blink of an eye---and play just about every instrument there was in Dickens’ time. Lovely voices make old English carols soar and remarkable actors make the transformations count. Lombardo’s canny direction makes short, sweet work of the three parallel scenes (miners, lighthouse keepers and sailors) often deleted from stage presentations---and even with the addition of a number of traditional songs, it still comes in at about two hours.

The performances are exceptional. Peter Haydu makes a downright scary Marley’s Ghost and a rather creepy “rascal of a pawnbroker.” Steven Barkhimer is a slightly naughty Fezziwig and a larger than life Present ghost. Dawn Tucker is a stalwart and warm Mrs. Cratchit to Ben Evett’s wistful Bob Cratchit and Spencer Evett gives a masterful performance as Tiny Tim.

Ilyse Robbins is radiant as a Glinda-esque Ghost and as Fred’s cherished wife. Cristi Miles breaks your heart as Scrooge’s former fiancée and along with Katrina Shinay, gives you the chills as the charwomen who steal from the dead. The young actors from the Watertown Children’s Theatre give strong, confident performances. You couldn’t ask for a more uplifting Christmas Carol. When Scrooge jumps for joy---and kicks his heels together, you have the feeling that the world may work out its problems after all.

"A Christmas Carol" (9 - 23 December)
@ Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, WATERTOWN MA
1 (617)923-8487

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide