This 'Carol' Invites You to Sing!

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Adapted and directed by Rick Lombardo, Original music by Anna Lackaff & Rick Lombardo

Traditional music arranged by Anna Lackaff, Original lyrics by Rick Lombardo

Original costume design by Frances Nelson McSherry & Christine Alger

Choreography by Ilyse Robbins

Bridget Kathleen O'Leary, associate director; Anna Lackaff, musical direction; Peter Colao, scenic design; Christine Alger, costume design; John R. Malinowski, lighting design; Rick Lombardo, sound design; Carola Morrone, production stage manager; Jennifer Braun, assistant stage manager

CAST (in alphabetical order): Kristina Ayanian, Peter Davenport, Claire Dickson, Paul D. Farwell, Nathan Greess, Brooke Hardman, Sofia Julia Hauser, Peter Edmund Haydu, Virginia Jay, Will Keary, Samson Kohanski, Chuck Muckle, Will Osborn, Joel Perez, Victoria Sarkissian, Julian Schepis, Katrina Shinay, Lily Steven, Dawn Tucker, Becky Webber

Performances through December 28 at New Repertory Theatre

Box Office 617-923-8487 or www.newrep.org

Mother Nature did her part to set the stage with a hefty winter snowstorm and sub-freezing temperatures which cancelled New Repertory Theatre's Friday night press opening performance of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. With a deep layer of fluffy white stuff on the ground and cleanup operations well under way, a respectable audience turned out Saturday evening for the fourth annual production of Producing Artistic Director Rick Lombardo's adaptation of this classic holiday favorite. The collaboration with the Arsenal Center for the Arts and Watertown Children's Theatre features Paul D. Farwell reprising the role of Ebenezer Scrooge at the forefront of a multi-talented, multi-tasking ensemble cast.

One of the many joys inherent in the New Rep version is how astonishingly fresh it all seems, despite the fact that the work was published in 1843 and numerous venues stage it annually. In addition, we all know how the story ends, but Lombardo and company manage to sprinkle in enough surprises to keep us on our toes and highly entertained. Upon entering the lobby of the Arsenal Center, we are instantly transported to Victorian London as the costumed troupe serenades the early arrivals with seasonal songs, a harbinger of more to come during the show. With original music by Anna Lackaff and Lombardo, as well as numerous traditional carols, the performers sing, dance, and accompany themselves on over a dozen instruments, including guitar, piano, and violin. As if that weren't enough, each cast member, with the exception of Farwell, plays two or more roles and several share in the narration. 

A Christmas Carol begins on Christmas Eve in the counting house of Scrooge & Marley, the latter being dead "these seven years," where we are introduced to the skinflint Scrooge and his clerk Bob Cratchit (Peter Davenport). While the former tallies his coins, Bob struggles to toil with only one lump of coal in the stove to warm him. Farwell immediately inhabits the persona of Scrooge as he deals nastily with his employee and some visitors to his office. His spirited nephew Fred (Samson Kohanski) is sent off with a series of "Bah, humbugs" ringing in his ears, while two men collecting for charity are spurned as Scrooge explains that his taxes support the work houses and prisons where the impoverished may go. Davenport shivers and shrinks, simultaneously showing the effects of the cold room and his autocratic boss, and shifts gears to engage pleasantly with Fred who is undaunted by his uncle's miserliness.

When Scrooge retires to his home for the evening, he is visited by the fearsome apparition of Jacob Marley bearing the chains he forged in life. It is a startling effect to see Peter Edmund Haydu rise from the floor of the fireplace in tattered clothes and deathly makeup, shrouded in fog and streams of light, his voice echoing powerfully as he warns Scrooge of the three ghostly visitors who will come during the night. Representing Christmas Past, Present, and Future, each of the spirits takes Scrooge on a journey to help him see the error of his ways and learn how to keep Christmas in his heart. By returning to his youth, he is reminded of his own callous upbringing by a cold father, how he reveled as an apprentice to the generous Fezziwig, and feels a part of his frozen core melting at the sight of his lost love Belle (Becky Webber), an earnest and beautiful young woman with red banana curls.

The Ghost of Christmas Present introduces him to joyous holiday scenes at the homes of Cratchit and Fred, spotlights the poverty of families in some sections of town, and shows the hard lot of men on a ship at sea and in a lighthouse, all to demonstrate that the true meaning of Christmas is in celebrating life and loved ones, regardless of circumstances. Scrooge braces himself for the harshest lessons from the spirit that portends the future and finally recognizes and accepts his responsibility to mankind. All that remains is for him to awaken from the dream and make good on his newfound humanity. When Farwell steps down from behind the lush curtains on Scrooge's four-poster bed, he is a new man with a relaxed posture, a constant smile upon his face, and absolutely giddy with delight at the prospects of the day. 

In addition to the fine performances of Farwell and Davenport, the always reliable Dawn Tucker gives lovely voice to Mrs. Cratchit, Will Keary makes an intense Young Scrooge, Kohanski is sincere and loveable as Fred, and Haydu is a solid presence as several characters. Brooke Hardman and Chuck Muckle bring two of the visiting ghosts to vibrant life, and both Katrina Shinay and Webber add sparkle to all of their scenes. The children in the cast acquit themselves well in all departments, acting, singing, and dancing, with special kudos to Sofia Julia Hauser as the most precious and precocious Tiny Tim.

Director Lombardo and Musical Director Lackaff have put together a cohesive ensemble, framed and highlighted by Peter Colao's scenic design, John R. Malinowski's lighting, Lombardo's sound, and the period costumes by Christine Alger. The cast members rove about the stage, moving props and set pieces, playing their instruments, providing sound effects, and it all flows naturally without a hitch. There is an impressive door and knocker at Scrooge's house, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come is a towering, imposing figure, but New Rep's staging of A Christmas Carol is really about the humanity. It is instructive without being pedantic, cheerful without being cloying, and compassionate as it reflects the daily struggles of the impoverished and the dignity they exhibit in getting through life. Charles Dickens was onto something when he wrote this book in a mere six weeks more than a century and a half ago. It was important to him to expose the bleak conditions of his day and he used the power of his pen to do so, while creating what has become a timeless Christmas classic. In the fourth annual iteration of the Rick Lombardo adaptation, it would appear that it is now a New Rep tradition, fitting for our time, as well. God bless us, everyone!

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From This Author Nancy Grossman

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