Artistic Director - Matthew Parent
Managing Director - Troy Siebels
Scenery Design - Sarah Sullivan
Lighting Design - Charlie Morrison
Assistant Lighting Design - Al Crawford
Costume Design - Allison Szklarz and Lori A. Cotman
Musical Director - Matthew Parent
Choreographer - Joe Locarro
Production Stage Manager - Jane Johnson
From November 28 til December 14 the American Stage Festival presents their second annual production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol which tells the time honored tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a pessimistic old miser who changes to a jubilant and merry benefactor of all after the frightful visits of his long dead business partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. ASF has created an outstanding production, directed by Troy Siebels and Matthew Parent, with an ingenious set, outstanding special effects, moving and realistic acting, and a cast which sings and works harmoniously together.
The cast functions together smoothly like a well oiled machine or a professional jazz band, cleanly handing off narration and portable set pieces from one actor to another. The smooth hand-offs and lighting changes allow the actors to each contribute their part and yet smoothly change the focus as they narrate. A narrator's description of Scrooge lighting a candle is followed by her handing the lit candle she has carried onstage to Scrooge; he seems unaware that someone has given it to him. They also flow naturally from the roles of impartial narrators unseen by the onstage cast into their roles as the cast themselves, such as when Bob Cratchit, played by Marc Carver, tells about Scrooge's stinginess at work and towards Cratchit and then quickly becomes terrified, and when another of the ensemble, Scott Severance, narrates to the audience and then puts on his elegant robe and becomes a character in the story as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Scrooge, portrayed by Dale Place, walks through the town, ignoring the narrators as they work around him, telling the audience about his horrid ways. At another time, when Scrooge is afraid of the ghosts that might be in his home, he mistakes his dressing gown for a person, realizes it is not and puts his gown on, completely oblivious to the "invisible" narrator who is handing him the gown. Place expresses the "Bah, Humbug!" grouchy nature of Scrooge at the beginning of the show exceedingly well with scorn and realism. He neither overacts nor underacts his role and the change in his personality is evident as the show progresses, yielding a believable rejuvenated and ecstatically happy man at the end of the show.
Fred, Scrooge's nephew, is played exceptionally well by Peter Haydu, last seen as the evil Mr. Mannigham in Gaslight at the ASF. Haydu is merry and upbeat throughout as Fred, though confused by Uncle Scrooge's pessimism, and he puts expression and meaning into his large amount of narration.
The party scene at Fred's home while Scrooge is observing with the Ghost of Christmas Present is one of the most entertaining. The guests are all dressed in elegant formal black tie attire - tuxes with tails and ladies in long evening gowns and gloves with their hair swept up (costume design by Allison Szklarz). They all confidently dance a very formal dance, well choreographed by Joe Locarro, without err weaving around the unseen wandering Scrooge. The scene continues with toasts and party games which end with a joke at the expense of Scrooge.
Special effects make this show stand out as unusual and impressive. Marley's face appears three dimensionally in the door knocker, we think by using a door panel made of sheet rubber. Steam lit with green light shoots out of a hole in the stage heralding Marley's entrance. Marley's voice has an eery echo/reverb which adds an other-worldly dimension. A unique effect allows the angel-like ghost of Chrismas Past, Denise Cormier, to appear to materialize from behind the bed curtains. The ghost of Christmas Future rises to a strobe-like light effect in the dark to the height of 15-20 feet high with hooded head and arms that can point and that falls to the ground instantly flattened after his bit. These are all amazing special effects that thrill and amaze.
The set of the show is very complex and effective. The detailed woodwork on the shops and the effect of patterned laid brick streets authentically depicts a shop lined street in London of the 1850s. An entire section of it rotates to bring the audience into the interior of Scrooge and Marley's counting house. Another section of the shops rises up to allow the four poster bed to be rolled onstage. A second level walkway bordered by a railing allows the characters to sing and spook from multiple levels. The trap door allows the Ghost of Christmas Future to be raised apparently from nowhere in the darkness. This ingenious set design by Sarah Sullivan contributes greatly to the overall production.
The American Stage Festival does a wonderfully entertaining production, refreshingly different from the movie version, and evident of a lot of hard work by a bevy of talented performers and crew. Prior to the show, the cast expertly sings carols on the stairs to the waiting audience, and the carols continue throughout the show even during the intermission from behind the set. An improvement might be to encourage the audience to sing along on a final well-known carol such as "Deck the Halls" or "Silver Bells". This might help better transfer the feeling of Christmas joy and holiday spirit. Whether you need or want something to get in the mood for the holidays or just would like to see fine theater, this is just the ticket you should buy.
& /)atrick_ /