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BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE at Fairfield Center Stage

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2021Fairfield Center Stage has successfully repeated the groundbreaking excellence of the 2018 production.

BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE at Fairfield Center Stage

On Wednesday, December 15, I had the pleasure of seeing one of my absolute favorite annual shows, A CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE, as put on by Fairfield Center Stage. This annual production is easily the show that I talk up the most frequently during the year, every year. While in the past, it has been at the Burr Mansion, and was virtually performed last year, this year, it is at a new venue, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, which Fairfield Center Stage has also made perfectly fit this show! Fairfield Center Stage has successfully repeated the groundbreaking excellence that I experienced for the first time back on December 22 of 2018, and have subsequently enjoyed every year since then!

In my youth, I have appeared in three stage productions of Chrales Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I have seen numerous movie versions, whether animated or otherwise. I have also seen it on stage. Fairfield Center Stage, however, has found a brilliantly unique new way of presenting this timeless classic story, while staying true to the original. In A CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE, the audience of about forty people moves from location to location inside and outside of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, following Ebenezer Scrooge and the other characters. I am convinced that the absolute best live performance of this timeless story that has impacted generations, internationally, is this one annually performed by Fairfield Center Stage. This is a wonderful experience all-around!

Executive Producer Eli Newsom; Artistic Director Christy McIntosh-Newsom; Director and Scenic Designer Kevin Pelkey; Musical Director, arranger, and composer of new music and lyrics Clay Zambo; Choreographer Lindsay Johnson; and Costume Designer Jessica Camarero combine their skills and efforts with a stellar cast that has clearly worked hard to bring the audience a stand-out first-rate theatrical experience!

The entire ensemble cast is phenomenal! Steve Benko stars as Ebenezer Scrooge; with Peter Haynes as Jacob Marley; Sana "Prince" Sarr as the Ghost of Christmas Past; Jeff Fulton as the Ghost of Christmas Present; Walt Matis as the Ghost of Christmas Futurea??; Todd Santa Maria as Bob Cratchit; Leslie Uhl as Mrs. Cratchit; Ainsley Novin as Martha Cratchit; Britton McGrath as Peter Cratchit; Amelia Uhl as Belinda Cratchit; Suraya Noonan as Tiny Tim; Garth West as Fred; Monique Castillo as Lily; Marcelle Morrissey as Lily's Sister and Bonds; Brodey Ott as Young Scrooge, Topper, and Joe; Sophie Pennock Collins as Fan; Mia Tommins as Belle; Ben Brennan as Fezziwig; Marnie Kruse as Mrs. Fezziwig; Ella Magnuson as Miss Fezziwig; Emery Holden as Ignorance; Liam West as Want; Marcy Sansolo as Stocks; Cathy Cordaro as Mrs. Dilber; and Muhammad Sarr as the boy who buys the turkey.

Before the show begins, the audience is served Figgy Pudding and hot apple cider, both which are wonderful! We then hear the beautiful voices of the carolers singing some traditional Christmas songs with added reverent twists of humor. Gillian Applebaum, Marnie Kruse, Marcelle Morrissey, and Ken Skjevel help put everyone into an uplifting Christmas mood, through their caroling.

The show is then introduced by Walt Matis who paces with purpose in front of the crowd, while speaking with a solemn and serious tone, juxtaposed by the comical heckling of Jeff Fulton.

As always, a highlight for me is the extremely talented ghost guides Emily Seanor and Genevieve Seanor, joined this year by the also talented Jennifer Faccenda. The three ghost guides begin with a dance number, while haunting violin music is performed by McNeil Johnston with the carolers providing vocal accompaniment. Without speaking a word, the ghost guides manage to get the entire audience from place to place using only gestures, and in such a way that the entire audience has a clear view of everything in every location, regardless of our differing heights, without anyone ever feeling cramped or crowded. During these transitions, the solo violin plays, and the ghost guides sometimes sing "oo" along with the melodies, maintaining the haunting feeling throughout the show. The ghost guides also provide some deliberately eerie echo whispers during the Jacob Marley scene, and other vocal sound effects that also enhance the quality of the production. These cast members make the most of these ghost guide roles that are unique to this Fairfield Center Stage production.

In this venue, the audience is introduced to the central protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, in an outdoor location that works well, representing Scrooge's place of work. Scrooge is a miserable person, penny-pinching and unkind to his employee, Bob Cratchit, yet, like all living people, Scrooge always retains the potential for redemption.

Bob Cratchit displays an inspirational loving attitude. He is kind to all people, regardless of how others treat him, and is grateful for all he has, regardless of how little that may be. He leads his children by example, living their Christian faith without letting the pessimism or antagonism of others ruin his joy. Even in his financial poverty, he remains undeniably rich in love.

Scrooge's nephew, Fred, is a character who, like Bob Cratchit, reflects a joyful and positive attitude, even when met with opposition. Fred's Christmas cheer and cordial invitation to Christmas dinner are rejected by Scrooge, but Fred keeps his uplifting and hopeful outlook, nevertheless.

Scrooge is so bothered by the words, "Merry Christmas," that he wishes painful death ("boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart") upon all who say "Merry Christmas." I absolutely love the way this story inspires us to still respond with a genuinely loving heart towards people who share Scrooge's attitude towards "Merry Christmas," as I firmly believe that by God's grace, radiating such authentic peace, love, and joy can help transform even the most hateful of hearts.

Solicitors find that Scrooge also seems to wish death upon many of the poor and downtrodden, "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." Scrooge failed to see the divinely ordained inherent value and equal human dignity shared by all members of the human family. Scrooge's crooked worldview can and must be changed, as Scrooge would soon find out.

The audience is soon led from Scrooge's workplace, to his bedroom, where Scrooge soon encounters the ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley. Jacob Marley is a doomed apparition in chains, who during his life on Earth had shared Scrooge's selfish worldview, but now warns Scrooge to change his ways, so Scrooge can avoid suffering that same tormented eternity with Jacob Marley.

Scrooge soon meets the Ghost of Christmas Past who shows him his loving sister, Fan. A unique element of this year's production, however, is that Fan speaks directly to adult Ebenezer Scrooge. Fezziwig's party is then shown, involving some lively dance numbers.

The joyful scene is soon contrasted by a deliberately heartbreaking scene, conveyed in a genuinely moving way. Scrooge's former fiancé Belle painstakingly breaks off her engagement to Young Scrooge, feeling that he has changed from the man who loved her, to someone who places the desire for wealth ahead of his love for her. The audience genuinely feels for both Young Scrooge and Belle. Reliving this trauma, Scrooge tells his younger self to run after Belle, but he can not change what has happened in the past.

Scrooge soon encounters the Ghost of Christmas Present, where he sees what is happening in the Cratchit house and in his nephew Fred's house, and realizes that he is not being viewed in a positive light. He furthermore begins to discern the critical difference between the needy as a mere nameless and faceless concept, and the needy as real people with real lives, an important distinction that is so often sadly lost on so many people. In doing such, Scrooge stops looking down upon needy, as if they are inferiors with meaningless lives, and instead desires to help them, specifically, Bob Cratchit's youngest child, Tiny Tim.

The biggest nuanced highlight of the new venue is that, in the Ghost of Christmas Future scene, the inside of the church itself is used as the location of Tiny Tim's funeral, with the audience sitting in the pews, as if we are attending the funeral. Scrooge's encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Future, though terrifying to him, could potentially be the final nail in the metaphorical coffin of his old attitude.

For all ages, I highly recommend A CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE which is scheduled to continue to run through December 19, 2021, with the warning for those with epilepsy or other potentially photosensitive conditions, there are some strobe effects. Some of the roles are scheduled, during some of the performances, to be performed by some different cast members than the ones who I saw and mentioned above. For times and tickets, please go to tickets.


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