A Christmas Carol - Ghosts Fly and Scrooge Repents
Bob and Karen Isaacs
Fifteen years ago, Michael Wilson, then the new artistic director at Hartford Stage, gave Connecticut a wonderful holiday gift -- his imaginative adaptation and staging of A Christmas Carol, subtitled a ghost story of Christmas.
It has been enchanting audiences ever since. We've seen it 12 times at least and taken all of our grandchildren to the show. Our youngest considers it "a must see" during the holiday season. Though Wilson has departed Hartford, he has left behind this wonderful production.
This year, the show is directed by Maxwell Williams, associate artistic director of HS. It tells the familiar story of Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited on Christmas Eve by three ghosts -- those of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future. During these out-of-body experiences, he learns the true meaning of Christmas and opens his heart.
What makes the Hartford Stage production different is the emphasis on the ghosts. The show opens with a parade of ghostly figures each carrying not just chains but the way they died. They wear grotesque masks and some fly across the stage. It sets the mood instantaneously.
Once again Bill Raymond returns as Scrooge and he is joined by many regulars to the cast including Noble Shropshire as his housekeeper, Johanna Morrison as Christmas Past, Alan Rust as Christmas Present, Michael Preston as Christmas Future and others. The newcomers fit in seamlessly.
Though we have seen it many times, it seemed as if director Williams has added a bit more dance and a few more flourishes. He also seems to have picked up the pace a bit; it kept moving but at times the dialogue got lost. And the young children singing carols seemed less joyous than usual.
Is it perfect? No -- over the years Bill Raymond has added a bit too many comic shticks for Scrooge in the early scenes -- it is hard to be frightened of him. It also undercuts his transformation and his childlike joy when he opens his heart. And the children's performances varied from almost inaudible to shrill. Yet Tiny Tim, played by Ethan Pancoast or Fred Thornley IV, is still touching.
But despite these Scrooge-like "Bah Humbugs," this is one of the most inventive and creative productions of A Christmas Carol we've seen. It does not sugar coat the meanness of Scrooge or the poverty of London.
While some very young children may be frightened by the ghosts, most children and adults will find it enthralling. With all the media coverage of hardship and need in our country, it seems particularly poignant.
A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story of Christmas is at Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church St., in downtown Hartford through December 29. For tickets and information call the box office at 860-527-5151 or online at hartfordstage.org.
Jessie Kilburn contributed to this review.
This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers December 12, 2012 and online at Zip06.com.