Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (Member, American Theatre Critics Association)
and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Photo courtesy of Meadow Brook Theatre
Illustration by Chet Johnson
Meadow Brook Theatre returns with its joyfully resplendent production of “A Christmas Carol”. Now in its 39th year, many of the cast and crew are long-time veterans. The pandemic caused the 2020 edition of the show to be cancelled, and this year’s presentation is well worth the wait.
Although the story is so well-known, and nearly ubiquitous this time of year ever since it was first published in 1843, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens remains an important and culturally relevant work. The timeless themes explored in this tale – charity for the poor, the treatment of children, love of home and family, hope and forgiveness – have become a central part of the Christmas celebration.
Thomas D. Mahard offers us the ideal Scrooge, a pathologically greedy and unpleasant character with a very interesting way of counting pound notes. If this miserly old man could reveal just a small glimpse of the person he once was long ago, a person who loved and had compassion, would it be easier to believe he could find redemption with the help of four ghostly companions? Or could the message be that there’s hope for everyone, no matter how repulsive, as long as someone still living believes in them? Aside from pondering the metaphysical, it’s fun to watch Mahard interact with the other characters, even if we know what’s coming.
Played by Grant Cleaveland, Scrooge’s good-natured nephew Fred offers a cheerful contrast to his grouchy uncle. Scrooge’s dear departed business partner, Jacob Marley (in a brief but impressive turn by Jeff Thomakos), makes a dramatic entrance though a trap door, bound by heavy chains, accompanied by a riff of heavy metal music and a blast of smoke from the depths of you-know-where. He’s on a mission to save old Scrooge from a similar fate.
The gentle Spirit of Christmas Past (Olivia Ursu) takes Scrooge on a journey to his childhood and youth, where he sees the love he once had before he fell under the spell of money. Anthony Guest as the wise and jovial Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge what he’s missing and how he needs to change.
Mysterious black umbrellas (one of many unusual touches throughout the show) herald the arrival of Scott Anthony Joy as the towering, ominous Spirit of Christmas Future. This spirit means business, and no humbug.
Other notable performances include Stephen Blackwell as Bob Cratchit, Kristina Riegle as Fred’s wife and Chip DuFord as good old Fezziwig. Scott Anthony Joy (Spirit of Christmas Future) also plays young Scrooge. Chris Bertini is the ever-adorable Tiny Tim.
Gorgeous costumes by Mary Pettinato lend the perfect period touch. Peter Hicks has created a massive, amazingly versatile rotating set that, combined with lighting by Reid Johnson, transports you to early 19th-century London.
Terry Carpenter’s direction is supple and sure-footed; he’s been involved with the show at Meadow Brook for most of its 39 performances as either director or stage manager. He’s also working with great material. The original adaptation and staging by Charles Nolte, a 30-plus-year veteran of Meadow Brook, is graced with wit and affection. There are many surprises, including a fiddler, some lively dance numbers (choreographer Jan Puffer) and general merrymaking that lend a festive sparkle. Other creative touches include original use of music and sound effects.
Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before curtain so you can catch the excellent a cappella choral group under the direction of Stacy White, with arrangements by Caitlin Burke. They’re all dressed to the nines in period costumes, singing traditional Christmas carols and engaging the audience. When the curtain rises, they merge with their fellow Londoners onstage in a seamless transition to begin the play.
When: Now through December 23, 2021
Tickets $35 to $49
Where: Meadow Brook Theatre at Wilson Hall
378 Meadow Brook Rd
Rochester Hills, MI 48309
Note: Due to the ongoing pandemic, please check the Meadow Brook Theatre website for the latest information on efforts to keep everyone safe.
Meadow Brook Theatre’s season is supported in part by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kresge Foundation, the Fred and Barbara Erb Family Foundation, the Shubert Foundation and the Meadow Brook Theatre Guild.