When I first knew I would be seeing “A Christmas Carol” for the gazzilionth time, my first reaction was, “Bah, humbug!”
But my cold heart was warmed by the elegantly traditional and even touching PCPA Theaterfest production, and, like old Ebenezer Scrooge, I left the theater with smiles for all. However, there was also an eerie feeling that the classic story about a bitter man fueled by greed, who has turned his back on the less fortunate, has become all too relevant today.
The Charles Dickens tale has taken myriad incarnations, including comedies and cartoons, but director Mark Booher has set this version in 1840, the time that it was written, and strips it down to its dramatic roots. Part of this version’s charm lies in the authentic setting and costumes. This adaptation by Richard Hellesen and David de Berry is embellished with music, and the large ensemble adds a choral dimension with original songs as well as Christmas carols. There are about a dozen children in the 30-member cast and ensemble, and they have charming voices.
The actors are PCPA’s fine and familiar faces. Peter S. Hadres is a perfect Scrooge, hard as stone in the beginning, gradually softening as the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future terrify him at first, then pique his curiosity and finally enlighten him. Michael Jenkinson, versatile actor and choreographer, plays Scrooge’s nephew and the young Scrooge. One of the memorable visual moments is Scrooge surrounded by himself at two different ages.
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The ghosts are the creative highlight of the show. Kitty Balay, decked out in a voluminous dress illuminated with lighted Christmas balls, plays Christmas Past. She takes Scrooge on a journey to happy and sad days.
Andrew Philpot is the frightening specter of Scrooge’s dead partner Jacob Marley, as well as the happy, benevolent employer of Scrooge’s youth, Mr. Fezziwig. The most cheerful scene in the show is a party from the past hosted by Fezziwig, with dancing and good will all around. The saddest moment in Scrooge’s past is when his fiancée returns his ring, recognizing the cold, greedy path he is taking.
The entrance of the ghost of Christmas Present is the most stunning scene, and Erik Stein’s bigger-than-life portrayal is a show stopper With his imposing stature and powerful voice, he is an appropriate guide as Scrooge visits his nephew’s happy Christmas party and the meager home of his clerk Bob Cratchit’s loving family, focusing on the ailing Tiny Tim. The bottom line: Happiness thrives without money (but it helps). Evans Eden Jarnefeldt as Bob Cratchit and Elizabeth Stuart as Mrs. Cratchit are sympathetic. Tiny Tim is double cast with Milania Espinoza and Saige Gardner, who, like others in the cast, play multiple roles.
The ghost of Christmas Future looms, obscured by darkness as Scrooge is shown what might be — or not — and chooses his path.
Most of the dialogue is from the original Dickens story, and the accents never waver. The costumes, designed by Frederick P. Deeben, and the dark set by scenic designer DeAnne Kennedy are like storybook depictions of the period.
The family-friendly production is appropriate for all but children under 5 years old. With so many children in the ensemble, and the colorful ghosts, it would be an impressive way to interest school-age youngsters in live theater.