November 26 thru December 31, 2010
The Classic Story by Charles Dickens
Adapted and Directed by Michael Wilson
November 26 thru December 31, 2010
Reviewed by B. K. Grant
As the lights dim on the thirteenth annual Hartford Stage production of A Christmas Carol, thunder crashes, lightning shatters the darkness, and ghostly spirits rattle their chains as they float (yes, float) and dance across the stage. It's doubtful Dickens would have imagined such an intro. The traditional tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s haunted holiday is off to a delightful start.
A cast of nearly two dozen fill close to forty major rolls in Artistic Director Michael Wilson’s spectacular adaptation of this classic story: scary and amusing, it proves to be a succulent serving of rare filet mignon plated by a great family of accomplished actors. The talented Hartt School Ensemble offers marvelous performances and the 28 children of A Christmas Carol, in alternating appearances, are amazing as they sing in proper dialect.
In his eleventh season as the miserly old semi-recluse, the energetic Bill Raymond owns the character. His portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge is incredible, believable, and at times, so hilarious he brings down the house. The humor is evident early on during a “Dead!” exchange with his housekeeper Mrs. Dilber, brilliantly played by Bill Kux (who with great conviction also plays the dearly departed Jacob Marley). After lighting a candle at his desk, Raymond/Scrooge toys with the sulfur trail rising from the match head; and as he again unlocks his desk, there’s the little tap dance while darting irritated glances toward poor Bob Cratchit (Michael Bakkensen in a wonderful performance, seen later as Scrooge at a youthful thirty) waiting for his wages. What is scripted and what is impromptu is debatable; the audience reacts with rolling laughter.
Act Two opens with a rather inebriated Ebenezer cautiously welcoming the grand entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Present; in his crippled mind, Scrooge revisits the encounters of the previous day, begrudging the uncollected back payments. Following the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future, his journey of self-redemption ended, Scrooge is elated to be home: “My room, my bed, my blanky!” He makes elaborate plans to make amends with his fellowman, his attitude expressing the abounding goodwill he had known in his youth.
From a sprawling cat-walk to a surprise trap door, red flashing lights and billows of smoke, the set design (Tony Straiges, Catherine Chung) offers treat after delicious treat for our holiday pleasure. The speedy scene changes (Martin Lechner, Julien Winter Tremblay) are non-invasive, almost invisible, occurring while well-placed spots highlight a specific character or event. The lighting techniques (Robert Wierzel, Aaron Black, Robert Henderson, Jr.), used during Scrooge’s Christmas Eve nightmare are wonderfully creative, adding a bit more ‘scary’ to the production. From the nightcaps to the apron strings, the costuming (Zack Brown) is spot on for early Victorian England of 1843, drawing sharp contrast to the imaginative garb of the ghostly trio.
In the Preface of his book, Dickens muses to his readers regarding his “Ghostly little book...May it haunt their houses pleasantly...”* This production by the Hartford Stage is definitely a pleasant haunting, an incredibly entertaining holiday show, one not to be missed.
*from the Online Literary Library, http://www.literature.org