You may run into a ghost, or several, at Hartford Stage’s annual original production of A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas – a holiday homecoming masterpiece to look forward to every year.
Not much changed in this year’s production, as the once new faces of John-Andrew Morrison (Mr. Marvel), Kenneth De Abrew (Mr. Fezziwig/First Solicitor) and Shauna Miles (Mrs. Fezziwig/Mrs. Cratchit) become familiar as they return for a second year.
Michael Preston, who long played Marvel and has served as a mentor for Morrison in showing him the ropes of the role, reprised his leading stint as our Ebenezer Scrooge for the second time in the footsteps of Bill Raymond. Everyone has settled into their new seats at the Christmas Carol table quite nicely.
Preston plays a more austere and senile Scrooge who seems to be losing his mind. He shows the most humor during Spirit of Christmas Present’s visit when he is overly happy drinking the elixir of life, as well as toward the end when he does snow angels in his nightgown and balances a rather large turkey on his chin, no doubt showcasing circus talents gained from many seasons as a clown in St. Louis. He is a veteran in this production and it’s nice to see a change of pace with him in another role.
Speaking of veterans, Noble Shropshire (Jacob Marley/Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s housekeeper) has been with Hartford Stage’s rendition of A Christmas Carol as long as it’s been around. He is a core element of this production who keeps us coming back. Everyone wants to see Shropshire flying from the bowels of the stage through a foggy red backlit trap door as the haunted ghost of Marley, Scrooge’s partner (who died seven years ago this very night) and donning a dress as the dutiful Mrs. Dilber waiting on the “Wicked Ole Screw.” He and Preston have strong chemistry in their scenes together, drawing out the most playful, childlike side of Scrooge.
Alan Rust is another longtime cast member, oozing jolliness in the roles of Bert and Spirit of Christmas Present.
Robert Hannon Davis was back as the affable father Bob Cratchit and Scrooge’s clerk. He always makes you feel at home when you see him play this family man part.
Morrison showed range from a concerned, resolute inventor trying to make ends meet to a giddy romantic who is overjoyed to go for Christmas dinner with lovely doll vendor Betty Pidgeon (Rebecka Jones, who also plays the divine, shimmering Spirit of Christmas Past).
Miles is a bright addition to the cast as both Mrs. Fezziwig and Cratchit, as is De Abrew as the jolly Mr. Fezziwig and determined solicitor who can be persuaded to attend any event if lunch is provided.
De Abrew and Buzz Roddy (Second Solicitor) played well off each other, particular in the sequence when they’re quarreling over who will take a woman they’re both keen on to church.
Vanessa R. Butler has risen in the ranks in this cast, from ensemble and a party guest at Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s Christmas dinner to Belle, once Scrooge’s fiancée, and Fred’s wife. She truly shines with grace and beams full of light.
Saturday evening, Dec. 1 audience members saw Reid Williams, of the Hartt School, by her side as 30-year-old Scrooge and Fred, standing in as understudy for Terrell Donnell Sledge. He poured joyous Christmas spirit into Fred and played both a romantic and money-focused, serious workaholic as young Scrooge. Well done!
The precious thing about A Christmas Carol is that it excels in its smaller moments, giving the spotlight to everyone in the ensemble at one moment or another. Everyone fully commits. Sarah Killough stood out as Fred’s ditsy, giggly sister-in-law in the dinner party scene and she paired well with Mark Lawrence as the awkward bachelor, Mr. Topper.
The children, as always, were adorable and talented, particularly Tiny Tim (Andrew Michaels/R.J. Vercellone), the “Turkey Boy” (Damien Galvez or Nicholas Glowacki), and the cider children/Ignorance and Want (Ethan Dinello/Max Kerz and Divena Rai or Anderson Wilder, respectively).
The Victorian dressed, black-lit dancing ghosts, including one actually flown high above the stage, accessorized with glowing death devices and chains, are the hallmark of this production. The choreography is precise and elegant, very pleasing to watch.
While the ghosts don’t do much more in the way of audience interaction than stare down the people in the front row, you may want to prepare your children for this part of the production because some young kids in the audience were scared of them. The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come is also unsettling and wreaks of doom, circling the stage on a tall tricycle. Otherwise, this production is very child-friendly.
From snow and glitter sprinkled on the stage and audience to lighting and clock projections, this show has high quality production value. Not to mention it is backed with a dynamic and memorable score with spooky original music by John Gromada.
This show is nothing if not consistent, never failing to entertain. Even when the production, staging, and costuming remain the same, it maintains a freshness born out of holiday nostalgia. It’s like every Christmas movie you have to wait a whole year to see or the thrill of a long-anticipated white Christmas snowfall.
This show is the perfect way to graduate from Halloween and fall into winter and the holidays. It truly has a Nightmare Before Christmas vibe to it that is grim, exquisite, and joyous all at once.
From the parlor games to the unique addition of Scrooge inviting everyone over his house to celebrate Christmas, this holiday ghost story is full of fun moments and has a very happy ending that includes the audience.
Be a guest of Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas. It’s a party to die for that you won’t want to miss.
A Christmas Carol, directed by Rachel Alderman, runs through Dec. 29 at Hartford Stage, located at 50 Church St. in Connecticut’s capital city. More information on the production and ticket purchases is available on the theater’s website at https://www.hartfordstage.org.