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BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a Festive Hug at the MILWAUKEE REP


A holiday tradition returns to spread comfort and cheer

BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a Festive Hug at the MILWAUKEE REP

It had been a staggering 701 days since the Milwaukee Rep's last performance of A Christmas Carol, but this holiday tradition is back at the Pabst and as fantastic as ever. From old friends to new faces, the ever-impressive scenery to lush costumes, this whole production, adapted and directed by Mark Clements, feels like a festive hug -- a warm and comforting welcome to usher in the holiday season.

Many in the audience are, I imagine, well-versed in this Charles Dickens world. But for any with only a vague relationship to the story, here's the gist: On Christmas Eve, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted by three spirits -- the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future -- as they show him the errors of his ways, changing his hardened heart to one of love and generosity.

So it's sort of a Christmas story, sort of a ghost story. The Milwaukee Rep leans into both. Where the ghosts are concerned, a standout favorite is Kevin Kantor who reinvigorates the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past. They play this ethereal spirit with magnetic zeal and an air of Puck-like mischief. Kantor's weightless, floating movements are particularly captivating. Todd Denning returns as the convivial Ghost of Christmas Present, while Mark Corkins is back as the thundering Ghost of Marley. Jamey Feshold is the spooky, speechless Ghost of Christmas Future.

Another new face is Scrooge himself, played by the renowned Lee E. Ernst. It's always immensely entertaining to see where a new actor takes this iconic role. Ernst's Scrooge begins gruff with a notable sputtering cough, giving you more than one reason to keep this wretched old man at arm's length. By the show's end, Ernst gives us a merry, and warm-hearted Scrooge -- one whose journey was a pleasure to accompany.

Always lovely to see, Reese Madigan and Rana Roman are back as the Cratchits. Together they're a delightful pair, expertly shepherding their little family with humor and tenderness. The Cratchits' littlest Tiny Tim is played by the charming Launey Techtmann, who is making her stage debut.

Also back is James Pickering as the jovial Mr. Fezziwig, this time with a new Mrs. in the excellent Carrie Hitchock. Scrooge's nephew Fred is played by the clear-voiced Jordan Anthony Arredondo, making his Milwaukee Rep debut. The way he sings the line "give my heart" in his Bleak Midwinter solo is sweet and stirring. Vivian Vaeth plays Fred's wife Ellen, whose generous spirit shines thanks to Vaeth. Christopher Peltier returns as Young Scrooge, courting Aja Wiltshire as Belle.

Much of the magic of A Christmas Carol lies in marrying top-notch performances with the grandeur of the sets, costumes, music, and effects. The towering rotating stage, the play of light, the falling snow, the velvet and brocade, the traditional carols sung by angelic voices -- it's all here and as magnificent as you remember it. Equally magnificent was being back in a crowded theater (masked, of course) and hearing people's reactions. At times, you might catch someone softly reciting the lines along with the actors. It's a testament to this timeless tale and beloved production. If it's seasonal comfort and cheer you seek in these still-uncertain times, you'll find it in this Christmas Carol.

A Christmas Carol runs through December 24th at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

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