BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Hartford Stage

BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Hartford StageIt's a story most of us have heard or witnessed before. Crotchety and greedy old Ebenezer Scrooge, complaining about the poor, turning down the invitation of his nephew to Christmas dinner, and begrudgingly giving Bob Cratchit the day off for Christmas. We fondly remember past portrayals of Scrooge face to face with the ghost of his ex-partner Jacob Marley, flying through the past and present with amiable spirits and having a change of heart after coming face to face with his own death. At Hartford Stage this season, the story comes to life with renewed excitement and joy in the form of A CHRISTMAS CAROL - A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS. The classic story by Charles Dickens and as adapted and originally directed by Michael Wilson is an annual tradition for Hartford Stage, but one that will be not be the same after this year's production.

Bill Raymond, who has played the role of Scrooge for Hartford Stage for nearly 20 years (missing just two of those seasons), will hang up his white nightgown and cap after the show closes on December 30. 647 performances of the same role might get stale for some actors, but based on his opening night performance, Mr. Raymond's Scrooge was as full of life and energy as ever. This was my first time seeing Mr. Raymond play the role and a number of things stood out for me. First, Mr. Raymond's Scrooge is not as mean and gruff as others I have seen before. Don't get me wrong, he is crotchety and cantankerous, but with a glint in his eye and a bounce in his step. Some of his most memorable scenes evoke a bit of physical humor, and in one vignette with a fire poker he even received resounding applause in the middle of the scene. He moves around the stage effortlessly and has strong chemistry with his fellow actors (many of whom have been playing their roles as long as or longer than Mr. Raymond.)

Speaking of the rest of the cast, a number of performances are worth calling out. First, BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Hartford StageNoble Shropshire shines as both Mrs. Dilber (Scrooge's housekeeper) and Jacob Marley. Mr. Shropshire garners many laughs in Mrs. Dilber's drag and elicits gasps as he nimbly shoots up to the sky from below the stage as the ghostly Marley. Robert Hannon Davis as Bob Cratchit and Terrell Donnell Sledge as Scrooge's nephew Fred are strong contrasts of caring and love against the cold heart of the greedy businessman. JohAnna Morrison as Bettye Pidgeon/Spirit of Christmas Past is delightful as she flings healthy amounts of snow while laughing merrily and flying with Scrooge to his past. Alan Rust as Bert/Spirit of Christmas Present is perfect as the booming and jolly ghost that shows Scrooge how his actions impact those in the present.

The ensemble is quite strong, including a number of actors from the University of Hartford, many in the roles of Ghostly Apparitions and Citizens of London. The apparitions, in particular, are a unique factor in this particular take on the story, part eerie dance troupe and foreboding chorus. The children in the cast do well in the many roles that require younger actors, including the Cratchit children (Tiny Tim in particular) and the children of London.

Rachel Alderman nimbly directs this large and diverse cast and keeps the action moving. The story, which, in other settings, can feel quite long and arduous moves at an appropriate pace and with a continued sense of energy. The staging is amazingly fluid and utilizes the open area of Hartford Stage very well. The scenic design by Tony Straiges is beautiful and evokes the time period simply and perfectly. The special effects, including copious amounts of stage smoke, flying spirits (flying effects by ZFX, Inc.) and creepy lighting (design by Robert Wierzel) all add to the magic and excitement of this story. Alejo Vietti's costumes (based on original designs by Zack Brown) are magnificent (including, what I believe to be the most beautiful Spirit of Christmas Present costume I have ever seen).

BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Hartford StageAll in all, Hartford Stage's A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a holiday must-see. The strength of the adaptation, staging and performances, especially that of Bill Raymond are definitely worth investing a December afternoon or evening. And this production is the perfect introduction to the classic tale for children of all ages (recommended for 8 and above by the theatre, due, in part to the ghostly apparitions and scary effects.) So make this season a "Merry Christmas" and not a "Bah Humbug" and check out this holiday classic at Hartford Stage.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS runs at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through December 30. Hartford Stage is located at 50 Church Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday - Sunday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Special 2 p.m. performances on December 23, 24, 26, and 28. Weekly schedules vary. For more information call 860-527-5151BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Hartford Stage or visit www.hartfordstage.com

Audiences have the rare opportunity to attend post-show talkback with the artistic team and adult members of the cast (including Bill Raymond) on the following dates: Wednesday, December 7 (7:30 p.m.), Saturday, December 10 (2 p.m.), and Wednesday, December 14 (7:30 p.m.). Audiences can also leave a "Letter to Bill" to share well wishes with Bill Raymond as he retires from the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Top Photo: Bill Raymond (foreground), Curtis Billings and GillIan Williams (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Middle Photo: Alan Rust as the Ghost of Christmas Present (photo by T. Charles Erickson)


Bottom Photo: Noble Shropshire as Jacob Marley and Bill Raymond as Ebenezer Scrooge (photo by T. Charles Erickson)

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