Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE at Fairfield Center Stage

The experience runs at Burr Mansion through December 17, 2023.

By: Dec. 10, 2023
Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE at Fairfield Center Stage

On Saturday, December 9th, at 2:00 PM, I had the pleasure of attending my favorite annual theatrical tradition, A CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE, as performed by Fairfield Center Stage, at Burr Mansion in Fairfield, CT.  In my youth, I have appeared in three stage productions of 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 moves from location to location inside and outside of Burr Mansion, following Ebenezer Scrooge and the other characters from scene to scene.  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!  The direction of Kevin Pelkey, choreography of Lindsay Johnson, songwriting and musical direction of Clay Zambo, and stellar performances by this spectacular ensemble cast all combine to bring life to this phenomenal adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, adapted by artistic director Christy-McIntosh Newsom.

While many roles are played by different actors and actresses, depending on which performance you see, the entire cast that I saw was amazing in this production, as always. The British accents were particularly strong this year.  The cast I saw includes excellent performances by Robert Alexander as Ebenezer Scrooge, CJ Newsom as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Jeff Fulton as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Eric Dino as The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, Peter Haynes as Jacob Marley, Todd Santa Maria as Bob Cratchit, Lisa Dahlstrom as Mrs. Cratchit, Michael Scholl as Peter Cratchit, Ainsley Dahlstrom as Martha Cratchit, Suraya Noonan as Belinda Cratchit, Zahra Noonan as Tiny Tim, Brodey Ott as Young Scrooge and Fred, Maggie Kruse as Lily, Brianna Parkin as Lily’s sister, Alana Merly as Stocks, Cheyenne Perez as Bonds, Ben Brennan as Mr. Fezziwig, Natasha Fenster as Mrs. Fezziwig, Kalea Talton as Miss Fezziwig, Liz Graham as Belle, Muhammad Ali Sarr as Boy Scrooge, Nikki Adorante as Fan, Cathy Cordaro as Mrs. Dilber, River Peterson as Topper, James Hisey as Old Joe,  Samuel Matis as Turkey Boy, Cooper Johnson as Want, and Melody Newsom as Ignorance.

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. Natasha Fenster, Liz Graham, CJ Newsom, River Peterson, and Ben Brennan help put everyone into an uplifting Christmas mood, throughout their caroling, enhanced by the antics of Jeff Fulton.

Eric Dino then introduces the story while providing the rules and directions for the audience, deliberately in a comically stern manner, entertaining the audience, while impressively managing to stay unfazed in character, despite being in close proximity to audience members who are laughing, and planned heckling from Jeff Fulton.

Britton McGrath, Ainsley Novin, and Lulu Sommer are wonderful as the ghost guides. The ghost guides begin with a dance number, while haunting violin music is performed by John 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.  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.

The audience is introduced to the central protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, in a room 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 MarleyJacob Marley is a suffering 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 an even worse torment than Jacob Marley. In addition to the ghost guides, some electronic echo effects on Jacob Marley's words enhance this scene.

Scrooge soon meets the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the audience is led upstairs. Scrooge soon sees his younger self, and is shown a memory with his late loving sister, Fan.  Fezziwig's party is then shown, involving some lively dance numbers, including some audience participation.

The joyful scene is soon contrasted by a deliberately heartbreaking scene, conveyed in a genuinely moving way. Scrooge's former fiancée, Belle, painstakingly breaks off her engagement to Young Scrooge. Belle feels that Scrooge has changed from the man who loved her, and has become 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 the needy, as if they are inferiors with meaningless lives, and instead desires to help them, specifically, Bob Cratchit's youngest child, Tiny Tim.  The Ghost of Christmas Present also calls Scrooge out on Scrooge's previous viewpoint that Scrooge should have the right to define what a "surplus population," is, or get to determine who should live or die.

When the Ghost of Christmas Future arrives, Scrooge gets to see people speaking ill of someone who has died, and others robbing his estate. He then sees a future at the Cratchit house, without Tiny Tim. The audience is soon led downstairs and outdoors, where a gravestone is shown. Scrooge's encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Future, though terrifying to him, could potentially be the final nail in the metaphorical coffin of Scrooge's previous narcissistic attitude.

For all ages, I highly recommend A CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE which is scheduled to continue to run at Burr Mansion through December 17, 2023.  For times and tickets go to the link below.