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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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