Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Charles Dickens' A Chrismas Carol"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Beverly Creasey

Glorious "Christmas Carol"

By Beverly Creasey

One of the lovely things about the holidays is the abundance of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. It’s no wonder every little theater company rushes to do the story. It’s practically foolproof. Who doesn’t melt when Scrooge does? Who doesn’t rejoice when all of London does at his reclamation?

My own favorites are the l951 Alistair Sims movie, the remarkable one-man performance by Dickens’ nephew a few years ago and now, New Rep’s unique musical, historically informed version. (It’s the story with music, not a musical in the Broadway sense). I guarantee you haven’s seen A CHRISTMAS CAROL like this one. Director/ adapter Rick Lombardo restores the richness of Dickens’ narration by having the characters deliver the author’s comments and descriptions, totally unobtrusively, mind you. It’s as if you can hear what the characters are thinking.

Lombardo finds new ways to illuminate the story without out changing a whisker of its intent or content: Some will take your breath away, like the sight of the “absent” Tiny Tim…and some will linger in your memory for their cleverness, like the door (with Marley’s face on the knocker) which is restored when Scrooge is reformed. Every scene yields pleasures, not the least of which is the glorious music (which sounds like an historically “informed” performance with original instruments). Practically everyone plays a recorder, a guitar, a flute, a trumpet, a pennywhistle, and on and on, right down to the superbly talented children from the Watertown Children’s Theatre. Carols resonate through each scene. Some will be familiar and some, like Tiny Tim’s gorgeous “There Was a Child” will haunt you days later.

Paul Farwell gives a chilling performance as a Scrooge who is not only a mean old geezer but a geezer who delights in his meanness—making his reformation even more touching. His glee at play’s end caused me to see a quick flashback in my mind’s eye of both Sims’ and Reginald Owens’ unabashed glee—adding to my joy at his. Farwell found new meaning in Scrooge’s lines, making us sit up and take notice of Dickens’ profoundly moving language. That, by itself is extraordinary.

Count Claire Dickson (as Tiny Tim) as one of the joys of this production, as are Peter Haydu as a terrifying Marley, Steven Barkhimer as a jolly great ghost (and an exuberant Fezziwig), Ilyse Robbins as the sunny-eyed niece and a giddy Glinda of a ghost (and the show’s choreographer! What can’t she do!), and Leigh Barrett as a plucky Mrs. Cratchit and a blushing Mrs. Fezziwig. Every singe cast member contributes mightily to the whole, with Brent Cramp a standout as Bob Cratchit, with Will Keary remarkable as the heartbroken Ebenezer, Terrence O’Malley grand as Scrooge’s indomitable nephew and Eric Hamel hilarious as the ditsy Topper.

Peter Colao’s moveable sectioned set, with its frosty arched window, makes one scene flow effortlessly into another. John Malinowski’s ominous shadows are as telling as the ghosts and period costumes by Christine Alger and Frances Nelson McSherry are the frosting (or rather the delicious hard sauce) on the plum pudding. I could almost taste my Dad’s Christmas pudding when Mrs. Cratchit brought hers in, covered with a cloth to preserve the precious steam. As you can see, I take my Dickens quite seriously. New Rep’s production is the genuine article. Make it your Christmas present to yourself.

"Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol" (10 - 24 December)
Arsenal Center for the Arts, 200 Dexter Avenue, WATERTOWN MA

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