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A CurtainUp Review
A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas

"God bless us, every one."— Tiny Tim, at the Cratchit Christmas dinner table.

"Bah, humbug."— Ebenezer Scrooge, at the drop of a hat, or the suggestion of a happy time.
A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas
The Ghosts of A Christmas Carol (T. Charles Erickson)
During the holidays time, money and patience are usually in short supply. For those who suffer a lack of abundance in those commodities yet wish to partake of Christmas entertainment the choice need not be a difficult one. Without hesitation, I always recommend the four cornerstones of the seasons' entertainment: A Christmas Carol (theater), the Nutcracker (ballet), Amahl and the Night Visitors (opera) and the Messiah (chorus and orchestra).

With these you will rarely go wrong, and when presented in inspired form will elevate your holiday mood immensely. If you've more time and money to waste, you can always include some inane concoction featuring tinsel topped nuns, singing reindeer or surly Santa's, but why bother when the Fab Four are almost always available?

Starting at the top of the list with Charles Dickens' classic tale of redemption, you need look no further than the Hartford Stage Company's A Christmas Carol for an exemplary outing. I doubt you could find a more elaborate, richly produced version anywhere. Now in it's 16th season at this theater, the already spiffy production has been renewed, refurbished and "re-teched" with redesigned costumes and sets, and a plethora of special effects including flying apparitions and a truly horrifying outpouring of evil from a fiery cave.

Yes, I said horrifying. Not exactly a trait of most holiday presentations, but Carol is realistically subtitled A Ghost Story of Christmas and has to do with some of the grimmer aspects of life - and death.

Dickens' work has always been associated with images of a cold, clammy London, bleak lonely existence and chain rattling ghosts. All for a good cause, of course, the redemption of the miserly, misanthropic Ebenezer Scrooge, who is literally "scared straight."

The Hartford production, originally adapted and directed by Michael Wilson is now in the able hands of Maxwell Williams. If anything, the charm and atmosphere of the story has become even more flavorful — and scary.

The little ones should be prepared for thunder and lighting, dancers at a masquerade ball wearing death masks and the return from hell of Scrooge's dead partner Marley, accompanied by fire and smoke. To offset those dark images that are plenty of scenes with children enjoying their toys, Christmas celebrations and "normal" people at a fancy dinner party. And, of course, the final moments when Scrooge, after mending his ways, helps make everyone else's life a happier one.

The most significant change in traditional approaches to this work is the interpretation of the role of Scrooge, usually a total bad guy. Here he's sort of a goofy Gus who makes lots of mistakes. Bill Raymond does a fine job switching from the mean Scrooge to a loose limbed, comic who twitches, takes pratfalls and has enough funny, steps, dips and bends, that you might think you'd stumbled into a West End musical.

Obviously this is the sugar to make the bitter medicine of the story go down easier. And it works.

Sets by Tony Straiges take advantage of the large stage to provide a sky walk at the rear where roaming bands of caroling children march. With fluid additions he quickly summons up Scrooge's office, bedchamber, and bustling London streets.

The dozens of costumes by Alejo Vietti are as colorful as the Christmas windows of a major department story. And the music embraces many familiar holiday songs with a bittersweet emphasis on the folk tune - "Barbara Allen."

With a cast as large as this one, there isn't space to praise all the actors whose contributions, both large and small, contribute to this solid show. I will, however, note a few of the outstanding ones: Robert Hannon Davis as Bob Cratchit, Johanna Morrison, Alan Rust and Michael Preston who double effectively as struggling street vendors. As the three ominous ghosts we have Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come, Noble Shropshire (switching genders) as Mrs. Dilber and Jacob Marley. Kudos also to Curtis Billings as Scrooge's nephew Fred, Timothy Longo as Scrooge at 14 and Gillian Williams as Belle, the miser's lost love. (bk)

A Christmas Carol, a Ghost Story of Christmas
By Charles Dickens, adapted by Michael Wilson
Directed by Maxwell Williams, supervised by original director, Michael Wilson
Cast: Bill Raymond, Charles Turner (alternating as Scrooge); Nobel Shropshire (Mrs. Dilber), Robert Hannon Davis (Bob Cratchit), Curtis Billings (Fred), Johanna Morrison (Bettye Pidgeon), Alan Rust (Bert), Michael Preston (Mr. Marvel), Charles Tirrell (Undertaker), Timothy Longo (Scrooge at 14), Gillian Williams (Belle), Rebecca Jones (Mrs. Cratchit), Charles Turner (Solicitor), Ethan Pancoast and Fred Thornley IV, (alternating as Tiny Tim), Emmaline Riley (Martha Cratchit), Sarah Killough (Wendy Fezziwig), plus an adult ensemble of eight actors and a children's ensemble of twenty four.
Scenic design: Tony Straiges
Costume Design: Alejo Vietti
Choreography: Hope Clarke
Lighting: Robert Wierzel
Original music and sound: John Gromada
Original costume design: Zack Brown
Flying effects: ZFX, Inc.
Music Director: Ken Clark
Youth Director: Christina Pellegrini
Production Stage Manager: Martin Lechner
Through Dec. 28, 2013.
Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford, Ct.
Performances: Evenings at 7:30 p.m., weeknights and weekends; matinees Saturdays, Sundays and selected weekdays at 2. For specific schedule, or to buy tickets, (860) 527-5151, or visit
Reviewed by Chesley Plemmons at the Sunday matinee, Dec. 8.
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