BWW Review: Portland Stage's Venerable CHRISTMAS CAROL Gets New Scrooge
Anita Stewart's staging of Dickens' A Christmas Carolhas been a beloved fixture on Portland's Christmas scene for quite some time now, and, indeed, despite changing casts, much of its appeal resides in its familiarity to audiences. On the December 23rdmatinee, the venerable production got a fresh new uplift in the performance of Dustin Tucker as Scrooge.
Tucker, who had been playing Bob Cratchit this season (his first role at Portland Stage more than decade ago), stepped into the role of the miser, and though he artfully minimized the script in hand (disguised as a period book), the performance he gave jumped completely off the page - powerful, intense in emotion, rounded in characterful details, and sprinkled with his signature quirky sort of humor that entirely humanized the character. A younger Scrooge than some, he gave a forceful vitality to both facets of the character from the angry, nasty, greedy man at the beginning to the transformed, truly joyful one at the end. Indeed, the second act transformation was viscerally convincing - not just a Dickensian morality lesson - but one experienced deeply in an almost hysterical manner in which Scrooge's wild laughter and tears prove cathartic for actor, character, and audience. By the time Scrooge gets to utter the famous closing lines, "God bless us, every one!" one could feel a real catch in the throat.
Christopher Holt replaced Tucker as Bob Cratchit and gave an endearing performance that avoided the saccharine. Sally Wood made an equally genuine Mrs. Cratchit and played a few other cameos with relish. Alex Purcell was a hearty, kind Nephew Fred; Hannah Daly a sweet Belle and Fred's wife. Patricia Buckley lent an air of wisdom to the three ghosts, and Yonathan Gebeyehu rounded out the cast as Jacob Marley and other cameos. As always the production relies on a large children's ensemble, who serve as chorus and in other small roles.
Anita Stewart once again directs reprising her adaptation and staging of previous years and reutilizing her original set design. Susan Thomas' costumes have stood the test of time; Bryan Winn's lighting and Chris Fitze's sound design help create the illusions, and Shane Van Vliet provides the excellent live music for the carols and the special sound effects. Kudos to Stage Manager Myles C. Hatch for helping to make what could have been a wild ride into a smooth running and effective performance.
Given the production's vintage, the transformation effects remain serviceable, though one might like to see what Portland Stage with newer technology and an imaginative designer like Stewart might be able to do with this to refresh its look and feel. One wonders if it might not be fun to give this chestnut a new physical production and to invite Tucker to star and have the opportunity to rehearse and build the interpretation even further. Next year perhaps?
Photos courtesy of Portland Stage, Aaron Flacke
A Christmas Carolhas run from December 1-24, 2018 at Portland Stage, 25 Forest Ave., Portland, ME 207-774-0465