Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Players On High At The Carlisle Theatre

The classic you know with a steampunk twist

By: Dec. 18, 2021
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Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Players On High At The Carlisle Theatre

The holiday season is a time when traditions and nostalgia take center stage. We hear the same songs on the radio over and over, we bake the same Christmas cookies year after year, and we watch the same movies and plays. While these traditions may help put us in the holiday spirit, sometimes we start to wonder just how many more times we can listen to a particular Christmas song or see a certain Christmas show. The answer in the case of the classic tale A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, is that no matter how many times you've already seen it this holiday season, you really should see it just one more time. The production of A Christmas Carol adapted by John Jakes and directed by Ashley Byerts at the Carlisle Theatre is a production you do not want to miss.

Described as "the classic you know with a steampunk twist", this production highlights the industrial revolution of the 1800s and its impact on Victorian England, in particular the increased contrasts between the wealthy and the poor. In using the steampunk aesthetic in costuming and set design, this play reminds the audience that A Christmas Carol, like much of Dickens's work, is more than just a story about one man's chance for redemption-it is a critique of these disparities in society. The costume design (by Barefoot Historian & Co.), set design and set dressings (by Rick Sheffe and Catie M.O. respectively), lighting design and programming (by Corey Eslinger and Nate Shunk of Eslinger Lighting), sound design (by Matt Hinton of All Sound Pro), and projections (by Professor Matt Kiser of Plymouth State University) all work together to transport the audience to 19th century England in a fresh, unique, and very visceral way.

While watching this production it is easy to forget that one is sitting in the audience of a theatre in Carlisle, PA. From the moment one enters the auditorium, this unique experience begins as the audience is greeted by Christmas songs-not Christmas songs one would likely hear on the radio, but haunting arrangements that take the familiar into the realm of the unfamiliar and set the mood perfectly for this holiday ghost story. One of the most amazing aspects of this production is the way the projections, fog, and lighting are created and work together. This reviewer has never seen projections designed so well-taking the audience from a busy street in town to Scrooge's place of business to flying through space and time with the spirits, the projections are flawless and, with the help of carefully designed lighting and use of fog, it doesn't even seem like a projection at all.

The show is also expertly directed by Ashley Byerts and choreographed by Torrence Brown. The movement of the actors on stage is beautiful to watch. The way that the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come move is mesmerizing, and two of the most exciting scenes-Fezziwig's party and Scrooge's final moments with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come-are so entrancing because of the way in which the actors dance and move.

Many of the cast members take on multiple roles in this production. Liliana Rice and Megan Lavalley particularly shine in their roles as Want and Ignorance. Aaron Moore and Nick Kuhn, along with other roles, are excellent as the boy Scrooge and young adult Scrooge. Kuhn's demeanor and expression transform beautifully as Scrooge transforms from the carefree young man working for Fezziwig to the young man so focused on his work that he loses his love. Rick Sheffe and Catie M.O. are delightful as the larger-than-life Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig. William Ashmore's Marley is appropriately frightening, while Ashley Sheffe and Aurora Bartholomay are sweet and endearing as Belle and young Fan. Phil Shickler, R.J. Lesch, Torrence Brown, Cadence Brown, Irene Winters, and Michael Griesemer show off their versatility in a number of parts, bringing the London town to life.

The Cratchit family features Ben Greensburg as Bob, Michelle Trefren as Mrs. Cratchit, Alyanna Montgomery as Peter Cratchit, Cathryn Moore and Laurel Trefren as Tiny Tim, Katherine Pritchard as Martha Cratchit, and Charlotte Schumer as Belinda Cratchit. These actors give wonderfully emotional performances, giving the audience the sense that they are a real family, with all their struggles, hopes, and love.

Vaughn Aarhaus (Fred/Londoner), Jeff Gibelius (Ghost of the Present), Roma Cervino (Ghost of the Future/Sara), Greta Weirich (Ghost Dancer), Hadley Qualls (Ghost of Christmas Past), John Fitzgerald (Charles Dickens), and Dave Lang (Ebeneezer Scrooge) round out the cast with superb performances all around. Aarhaus is immensely likable in his role as the optimistic and cheerful Fred. Gibelius, Cervino, Weirich, and Qualls perform their ghostly roles with tremendous energy and focus, drawing the audience along with them as they take Scrooge on his nighttime journey. Fitzgerald ties the whole story together as the storyteller Charles Dickens himself. What stands out most about his performance is his voice, which has the perfect cadence to engage the audience as the story unfolds. Lang gives a performance of Scrooge that is both familiar and unique. His Scrooge is more than just the crotchety old miser-through Lang's acting, the audience can sense that there is something in Scrooge's past that has made him the way he is. As the story progresses, if the audience focuses on Scrooge during the scenes he sees with the spirits, they will see the hope he once had, the heartbreak he endured, and the transformations he went through from childhood to adulthood as they play out on Lang's face. This raw emotion brings the audience even more enjoyment as Scrooge experiences his breakthrough and the return of hope and joy to his heart in the final scenes.

In their endeavor to offer a new take on an old and beloved story, the Players on High at Carlisle Theatre have absolutely hit their mark with their production of A Christmas Carol. You only have two more chances to see this extraordinary production, so visit to get your tickets now!


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