note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
For the past 25 years, since its inception, I’ve attended North Shore Music Theatre’s spectacular production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” convinced it’s the nonpareil of all versions.
Don’t get me wrong, it still is, mostly because of magnificent, eye- and ear-popping stage effects and clever staging, with actors and musicians performing within the audience, on elevated platforms and in the aisles, sweeping theatergoers into the action. But the primary reason for the Beverly theater-in-the-round’s continuous success is Texas actor David Coffee, who adds a heaping measure of delight, portraying embittered curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge.
That said, I recently spent a wonderful, memorable afternoon at a Trinity Repertory Theatre matinee performance of “A Christmas Carol,” which I consider is a strong contender for the best-of-the-best, traditional, Christmas ghost story.
For one thing, Trinity Rep organizers make a special point of clarifying Dickens’ story, set in 1843, making metaphoric and realistic elements easier to understand for all ages.
Trinity Rep spokespeople told me they change the production every year, so theatergoers never see the same version. Although the primary actors are Trinity Rep resident members, the Providence, RI theater employs two separate casts during their monthlong run - Red and Green.
Before the play starts, actors garbed in designer Toni Spadafora’s elegant period costumes saunter through the audience, greeting individuals, sitting with them, chatting, climbing the aisles to reach theatergoers located from closest to furthest from the stage.
During the show, the actors aren’t rooted to the presidium stage, either. They stand on side platforms near the audience, sit or walk through the aisles, delighting multi-generational viewers. They also rise from a centrally-located trap door under the stage, or descend from above.
Not everything is smoke and mirrors. Lighting director Josh Epstein, sound designer Peter Sasha Hurowitz’s jaw-dropping, eerie effects,coupled with Aaron Rhyne and John Narum‘s spooky, holographic projection images, enhance the play’s paranormal experience.
There’s a smattering of charming music and dance, too, featuring music director Michael Rice, leading an outstanding group of six musicians, and choreographer Shura Baryshnikov’s lively, crisp, traditional routines. By the way, Shura. daughter of iconic dancer-actor-director, Mikhail Baryshnikov and actress Jessica Lange, is a teaching associate at Brown/Trinity Rep. She also taught at MIT, Dean College, Rhode Island College, Boston University, Salve Regina University and Earthdance.
For Massachusetts folks, watching award-winning Chelsea native Fred Sullivan Jr. is always a joy and source of pride. He shines brightly in “A Christmas Carol,” portraying young Ebenezer Scrooge’s super-jolly, kindly employer, Mr. Fezziwig, a sea captain, and also an Exchange gentleman.
Kudos to actor Stephen Berenson’s effective, almost lovable, portrayal of Scrooge. His metamorphosis, from curt, cruel, miserly moneylender to his repentance, regret, and ebullient redemption, is marvelous. And Stephen Thorne is delightful,too, as Scrooge’s poor employee, Bob Cratchit, running the emotional gamut, from humor to profound sadness, then surprise later.
On Christmas Eve, the seventh anniversary of the death of Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley (Brian McEleney), Marley’s corpse rises from his grave to warn Ebenezer he has one last chance to redeem himself, before Scrooge’s spirit is doomed to travel through time and space, with other tormented, wretched spirits. Marley tells Scrooge to pay heed to three ghosts, who’ll each take Ebenezer on an overnight, paranormal journey, through Christmas Past, Present and Future.
Under Curt Columbus’ direction, most cast members were fine, but there are flaws. The child portraying crippled Tiny Tim isn’t pathetic enough. Instead of pathetically limping, the young actor practically ran across the stage, never leaning on his crutch. Dialogue that Tim is doomed to die without medical help/ financial intervention appear hollow.
Children and some adults said they were confused when the same actor portrayed several roles, or others change race growing up, such as Scrooge’s sister, Fan. She’s African-American as a child, but caucasian as an adult. The fact that the Cratchits’ eldest daughter Martha, along with Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Kyle Vincent Terry) and Scrooge’s beloved fiancee, Belle (Adrian Blount) are African-American isn’t problematic, though. Blount and Terry are fine actors, and Terry’s multi-level vocal range is divine.
BOX INFO: 1-3/4-hour, two-act production, appearing at Trinity Repertory Theatre, 201 Washington St., Providence RI, through December 31. Tickets, $25-$100; children ages 2-14, $26-$39. Times vary. Call 401-351-4242, or visit www.trinityrep.com.