Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Remains a Gift to be Treasured at the MILWAUKEE REP

Wonderful New Scrooge Energizes This Holiday Tradition

By: Dec. 05, 2022
Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Remains a Gift to be Treasured at the MILWAUKEE REP
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For almost 50 years, the Milwaukee Rep's A Christmas Carol has been a beloved holiday tradition in Milwaukee. Freshly adapted by Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements in 2016, the eye-popping spectacle delivers holiday magic and festive feelings to melt even the iciest of hearts. But there's a repetitive risk in tradition -- the inherent potential of sameness and boredom with doing the same thing year after year. Can a show, even one as impressive as A Christmas Carol, keep the flame alive?

I'm overjoyed to report that yes, the Milwaukee Rep never fails to deliver. This year's production of A Christmas Carol feels particularly reinvigorated, thanks in very large part to a brand-new Scrooge. Milwaukee's own Matt Daniels is nothing short of extraordinary as the iconic Ebenezer Scrooge. Playing an icon means stepping into well-worn shoes, and Daniels succeeds in making those shoes shine like new.

At the onset, Daniels kicks off the show as narrator Charles Dickens. It's immediately evident that there's something special about him. Daniels' cadence, tone, and spirit are captivating. As Scrooge, his physical transformation is remarkable. Daniels begins as a sneering miser with a sharply-angled furrow to his brow, but by show's end, his expression is open, bright, and warm.

While Scrooge's arc can be summed up in Daniels' impressive physicality, he gives heart and humor throughout that make his character's journey an enthralling one. In short, Daniels' Scrooge far exceeded my hopes, breathing fresh life into this character traditionalists know so well. It's worth seeing A Christmas Carol just for his inspired performance.

Of course, there are lots of other wonderful reasons to see A Christmas Carol season after season, or for the first time. One is the experience overall. The show is staged in the historic Pabst Theatre, the "most splendiferous of settings." Gilded, shining, and plush with red velvet, the theater itself is a stunner and sets the tone magnificently. Then there's the glorious production value: towering scenery, lush costumes, fluid staging, world-class actors and singers. The entirety of A Christmas Carol is a jewel of Milwaukee's holiday season -- a thing to be treasured and ogled with starry eyes.

I mention world-class actors and singers, and while it would take far too long to praise them each by name, every last one is worthy of admiration. A shout-out to some of the favorites: Jordan Anthony Arredondo is jovial as Scrooge's kindly nephew Fred. Alongside Rep newcomer Jaelyn Raiford as Fred's wife Ellen, they lead the ensemble in a moving acapella of "In the Bleak Midwinter" that's sure to leave eyes a little glassy. I always find Ellen's character one to watch; she may just be the epitome of Christmas Spirit.

There are also many favorite duos returning to A Christmas Carol: Reese Madigan and Rana Roman return as Bob and Mrs. Cratchit, Roman funny as ever when she gives a half-hearted toast to Scrooge, "the founder of the feast." James Pickering and Carrie Hitchcock are back as both a couple of charitable workers and Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig. But my favorite Hitchcock moment is her spin as Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge's housekeeper. What a hoot!

Then there's a trio of specters returning: Mark Corkins as the Ghost of Marley, Todd Denning as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Tami Workentin as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Each brings presence and panache to their ghostly roles, and they get to don some of the best costumes of the bunch. I never tire of these dynamic, dazzling looks by Costume Designer Alexander B. Tecoma.

When all is said and the last wondrous indoor snowflake has fallen, it's easy to remember why A Christmas Carol has such a faithful following in Milwaukee. The dependable enchantment of this Rep production year after year makes this show not just a tradition, but a gift.

Catch A Christmas Carol at the Milwaukee Rep though December 24, 2022.