note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Sheila Barth
With so many productions of Charles Dickens‘ “A Christmas Carol” currently being performed, including the resurrection of North Shore Music Theatre’s renowned version currently at a small theater in Portsmouth, NH, it’s difficult for theatergoers to decide which one to attend.
In Boston and in local venues, there’s no contest. New Repertory Theatre’s production, in collaboration with arsenalArts and Watertown’s Children’s Theatre, adapted for the stage and originally directed by former New Rep Artistic Director Rick Lombardo, is currently in its fifth year, and gets better every year. Lombardo is now in San Jose, Calif., but with his version of “A Christmas Carol,” he has left his signature award-winning mark, aided and abetted by Anna Lackaff, who co-wrote original music and arranged all traditional songs and carols. Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary, who was assistant director last year, has upheld Lombardo’s mission in creating a more realistic, dramatic, and moving production, complete with astounding sound and stage effects.
Although the actors play multiple roles, excluding outstanding actor Paul D. Farwell, reprising his role as Ebenezer Scrooge since its inception, there’s no confusion here. The production glides smoothly, from the Victorian Era costumed cast’s 10-minute pre-show concert of carols and traditional Christmas airs performed on multiple levels in the lobby, to a rousing, heartfelt sing-along finale.
Lombardo and company focus on the story, the tale of miserly curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge’s visitation by his deceased former business partner, Jacob Marley, three spirits - The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future - and the ultimate softening of his heart and redemption.
The actors are also multi-talented, with many playing musical instruments on stage while portraying multiple roles, singing and dancing. They all serve as the story’s narrator, taking turns as the story advances.
Lombardo doesn’t sugar-coat Victorian Era’s delineation between London’s social classes. The poor are extremely poor, the rich, privileged. The poor huddle in corners, dressed in tatters and rags, while the rich frolic in velvet and taffeta, yet they all appreciate and celebrate the joy of Christmas, whether they’re in alleys, on a ship,in a lighthouse, or at a festive house party.
While the set is dismal and minimalist, there are several outstanding sound, stage and dramatic effects. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Brooke Harman) floats down, on stage, on a silvery, glittering trapeze, on which she and Scrooge are elevated high above the stage, overlooking scenes of Scrooge’s past.
Ghost Jacob Marley (Peter Edmund Haydu) arises from the smoky embers of Scrooge’s fireplace, a ghastly, green-gray apparition, whose voice echoes his netherworld agony; and cheery Ghost of Christmas Present (William Gardiner) carries a glittering floral cornucopia as he appears in a huff of smoke, and disappears in radiating brilliant-hued kaleidoscopic rays, while casting silhouettes of children’s shadows, Ignorance and Want.
Scrooge’s door is enlarged, with a massive knocker that converts to an illumined Marley’s visage, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is a huge looming black spectre. Cast members’ playing musical instruments, including kettle drums, piano, flute, pipes, bells, violins, etc. add drama and intensity, along with vivid stormy sound effects.
Also moving is the Cratchit family’s love and obvious affection for each other in all scenes. Dawn Tucker as Mrs. Cratchit, Edward M. Barker as Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s longtime, impoverished clerk, and their six children, including understudy Julian Schepis, are a genuine loving family, who shine here.
BOX INFO:Two-act, two-hour play, adapted by Rick Lombardo from Charles Dickens’ classic tale, appearing through Dec. 27 at New Repertory Theatre, Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Performances are Wednesday, 7 p.m.; Thursday, 3 p.m.; Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 1,6 p.m. Tickets, $35-$54; also, special children’s rates for 12-under; senior discount, $7 off; student rush, $13; Call 617-923-8487 or visit . Also student matinee, Wednesday, Dec. 23, at 10 a.m. (limited space); $13; call .