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A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens
Adapted by Michael Wilson
Directed by Hana S. Sharif
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
December 10, 2021

Giuesseppe Jones (center) and cast of A Christmas Carol
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

A Christmas Carol is a tale that has been adapted many times, showing the versatility of the source, the classic Charles Dickens novel. For more than a century and a half, the story has been adapted numerous times, for stage, radio, big screen and small. It’s been musicalized, condensed, expanded, and set in different times and places. Now, with plans of establishing an annual tradition, the Rep has brought it to the stage in a version that’s alternately comic and serious, with not a little bit of an ominous, even horror-like tone at times. Utilizing the impressive resources of the Rep, both in terms of technical abilities and the talents of of an excellent cast, crew, and creative team, this is a production that honors the timeless classic while at the same time making it immediate and relatable for modern audiences. 

Upon reflection, I’ve realized that I’ve seen quite a few adaptions of this story over the years, mostly on film and TV, but also including the last time the Rep staged a production five years ago. What I’ve noticed from seeing all these versions is that A Christmas Carol as a story is especially versatile in terms of how it can be adapted depending upon the time, circumstances, and medium. For this new Rep production, the focus seems to be on a more darkly comic interpretation of the material, blended with poignant drama at important moments, and an extensive use of music and striking visuals in telling the familiar story of the confrontation and redemption of miserly moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge (Guiesseppe Jones). The casting of one performer, Michael James Reed, as two highly contrasting characters–Scrooge’s whimsical housekeeper Mrs. Dilber and an ominous, frightening version of the ghost of Scrooge’s late business partner, Jacob Marley–highlights the overall tone of the piece, going for broad comedy on occasion and shifting to near-horror when appropriate. The Ghosts of Christmas Past (Laakan McHardy), Present (Paul Aguirre), and Future (Eric Dean White)–who also double as merchant characters who owe debts to Scrooge–reflect this duality of tone, as well. Also, as is usual for this story, Scrooge’s clerk Bob Cratchit (Armando McClain) and his family, especially his young, ailing son Tiny Tim (Rian Amerikal Page) are the focus for much of the poignancy and emotion.

The staging is energetic and briskly paced, with a lot of focus on music and technical effects, in support of the excellent cast. The use of music–mostly traditional English and European carols and folk songs with some original music and some more modern arrangements–is impressive, as well, with strong work from music director Tre’von Griffith, choreographer Kirven Douthit-Boyd, and composers/sound designers Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes. The music and dance–including a rap sequence–works well with the story and supports the action and emotion especially well.  Also contributing to overall technically stunning look and atmosphere of the piece are set designer Tim Mackabee with a vividly realized and versatile set, along with lighting designer Seth Reiser, projections designer Hana Kim, and costume designer Dede Ayite who provides meticulously detailed outfits for the characters ranging in style from traditional Victorian English to the more steampunk-ish look of the Ghost of Christmas Future and his living counterpart, a clockmaker and inventor. The overall design of this show, and the truly thrilling flying effects with Marley, provide for much of the visual impact of the show while supporting the emotional arc of the story.

As for the cast, it’s a fairly large ensemble and everyone is excellent, from Jones as an energetic, miserly and believably softening Scrooge, to McClain and Michelle Hand as the hardworking Cratchits, to Reed in impressively contrasting performances as Mrs. Dilber and Marley. There’s also impressive work from  McHardy, Aguirre, and White as the ghosts and their non-ghost counterparts. Also excellent are Raffael Sears in a dual role as Young Scrooge and Scrooge’s nephew, Fred; and Alegra Batara as both Young Scrooge’s onetime fiancée, Belle, and Fred’s wife. The entire ensemble is strong, as well, including a superb Youth Ensemble–I saw the “Green” group (there is also a “Blue” group that alternates with the Green group). 

A Christmas Carol is a holiday classic story that most people with recognize to some degree. Being a “ghost story” in essence, this tale always has its scarier scenes, but this version emphasizes a lot of the intense moments, so parents should consider that when deciding whether to bring small children. It’s a bit different staging-wise than other versions you may have seen, but this is such a versatile story and this version has a lot of appeal for today’s audiences, with a top-notch cast and truly stunning production values. It’s a timeless tale for the ages, and the Rep’s production tells this classic tale with truth and vibrancy.

Cast of A Christmas Carol
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting A Christmas Carol until December 23, 2021

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A Christmas Carol
Adapted by David H. Bell
From the Novella by Charles Dickens
Directed by Steven Woolf
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
December 2, 2016

Jerry Vogel, John Rensenhouse Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jerry Vogel, John Rensenhouse
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

‘Tis the season for holiday-themed shows in the St. Louis theatre scene, and this year, the Rep has brought back a show that used to be staged annually decades ago. A Christmas Carol is the classic Dickens tale that has been adapted many times over the years by various playwrights, in musical and non-musical form. The Rep’s latest production, adapted by David H. Bell and performed previously by several other theatre companies, isn’t really a musical although seasonal carols abound.  It’s a technically stunning, well-cast production that keeps true to the spirit of Dickens.

As most viewers will already know, A Christmas Carol centers around the crusty, miserly money lender Ebenezer Scrooge, played here by John Rensenhouse.  After Scrooge spends Christmas Eve being his usual Christmas-hating, bah humbugging self, he gets a rude awakening when he’s suddenly visited by the spirit of his old, long-dead business partner Jacob Marley (Joneal Joplin) and warned that three more spirits will be visiting before dawn breaks on Christmas Day.  Through the visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past (Jacqueline Thompson), Present (Jerry Vogel), and Future (Landon Tate Boyle), Scrooge is reminded of what he has lost and what he could still have if he only is able to change his ways. We meet the familiar characters of Scrooge’s clerk Bob Cratchit (Michael James Reed), Cratchit’s wife (Amy Loui) and seven children including the optimistic but ailing Tiny Tim (Owen Hanford), as well as Scrooge’s persistent nephew Fred (Ben Nordstrom), and faces from his past including his former boss Mr. Fezziwig (also Vogel) and his one-time fiancee, Belle (Lana Dvorak).  The end of the story is well-known enough, but what’s important here is how the story is told, with humor, drama, music, and a lot of dazzling effects.

The cast here is excellent, led by the impressive Rensenhouse, who makes Scrooge’s journey and ultimate reformation thoroughly convincing. There’s also strong work by Joplin as a particularly creepy ghost of Jacob Marley,  Vogel in a dual role as the bouncy Fezziwig and a Ghost of Christmas Present who resembles a cross between Santa Claus and a Christmas tree, and Thompson as an ominous Ghost of Christmas Past. There are also strong performances from Nordstrom as the kindly but disappointed (in Scrooge) Fred, Reed as the earnest Bob Cratchit, Loui as Mrs. Cratchit, young Hanford as the lovable Tiny Tim, and Kaley Bender, Justin Leigh Duhon, Kennedy Holmes, Phoenix Lawson, Nathaniel Mahone, and Kara Overlein as the rest of the Cratchit children.  Susie Wall is also excellent in a dual role as Scrooge’s feisty housekeeper Mrs. Dilber and as Mrs. Fezziwig. There’s a strong ensemble as well, playing various characters and augmenting the story with a variety of well-sung Christmas carols, contributing to the overall Victorian holiday atmosphere of the piece.

Technically, this production is particularly impressive, featuring a spectacular multi-level set by Robert Mark Morgan that serves as an ideally versatile background for the action of the play. Dorothy Marshal Englis’s costumes are also superb, ranging from the authentic Victorian-era costumes of most of the ensemble to the more fantastical costumes worn by the various ghosts, including a truly chilling Ghost of Christmas Future. Rob Denton’s lighting and Rusty Wandall’s sound also contribute wonderfully to the sometimes haunting, sometimes festive atmosphere of the production, and there are also some excellent flying effects by On the FLY Productions LLC.

Although I have seen quite a few of the filmed versions of this story, I had never actually seen a stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol before. The Rep’s production certainly captures the spirit of this well-known story. It’s at turns whimsical, frightening, compassionate, challenging, and wondrous, with a strong cast taking the audience on this journey that’s at once familiar and new at the same time. It’s a worthwhile show for the holiday season.

Cast of A Christmas Carol Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Cast of A Christmas Carol
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

A Christmas Carol is being presented by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis until December 24, 2016.

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