Review: Milwaukee Rep's CHRISTMAS CAROL Continues to Enchant

A Holiday Treasure Returns for its 48th Year

By: Dec. 05, 2023
Review: Milwaukee Rep's CHRISTMAS CAROL Continues to Enchant

For a splendiferous evening of holiday cheer (and ghostly mischief) there remains no better show in town than the Milwaukee Rep’s annual Christmas Carol, now in its 48th year. The Rep refreshed its play in 2016 — so those who fondly remember the iteration from a decade or more ago would do well to don their festive best and get themselves to the historic Pabst Theatre to see what Artistic Director Mark Clements and this marvelous company have cooked up.

Since the 2016 refresh, A Christmas Carol has followed largely the same blueprint, from what this reviewer can tell. Perhaps some new costumes or accoutrements — or maybe it’s just that one notices different little things upon repeat viewings. The most-obvious update each holiday season is, of course, any changes to the cast. Those changes are always exciting, and though some beloved actors may be missed, the new ones never disappoint.

Just last year, the Rep welcomed a new Scrooge in Milwaukee’s own Matt Daniels. I wrote last year that “Daniels' Scrooge far exceeded my hopes, breathing fresh life into this character traditionalists know so well.” Daniels delivers again, and how. I was struck once more by his expressiveness and physicality, the way his whole being transforms from a sneering miser to a merry gentleman. Daniels is an immense pleasure to watch, and I’m so glad he’s back.

As for this year’s new additions to the cast, a notable favorite is Kevin Kantor. Rep faithfuls will recognize them from The Legend of Georgia McBride and Things I Know to Be True. Kantor plays a handful of smaller roles with brilliant humor and eloquence — but most memorable is his spin as a young Scrooge falling in and out of love. The breakup scene between Kantor and Aja Wiltshire’s Belle is wholly heart wrenching. Hats off to these two, and Daniels, for leaving us gutted in the best way.

The Rep also welcomes a new Tiny Tim to the stage. This is the debut stage performance for third-grader Valentina Vega. She left me misty-eyed after Tiny Tim’s little song, so it’s safe to say she nailed it. Congrats on your debut, Valentina!

On opening night, we missed the presence of Carrie Hitchcock, slated to reprise her roles as Mrs. Fezziwig, Mrs. Dilber, and Charitable Worker #1 alongside James Pickering. Her parts were instead played by acting resident Rayven Craft. Craft is bright and buoyant, but I must say: she makes Mr. Fezziwig look like a cradle-robber. Regardless, it was fun to see another new face.

It’s also nice to see the return of many faces so faithful to this tradition. Reese Madigan and Rana Roman return as Bob and Mrs. Cratchit — as charming a pair as ever. Then there's the return of a ghostly trio: 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 gives an exuberant performance, once again in gorgeous costumes by Alexander B. Tecoma.

From those intricate costumes to eye-popping scenic and lighting design (Todd Edward Ivins and Jeff Nellis, respectively), original orchestrations by John Tanner with sound design by Barry G. Funderburg, plus movement direction by the Milwaukee Ballet’s own Michael Pink, the entirety of this show continues to be a Christmas feast for the senses.

Catch this holiday treasure through December 24th.

Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow