Nancy Sasso Janis
‘A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story of Christmas’ is a holiday tradition at Connecticut’s Hartford Stage. In it’s eighteenth year at the beautiful theater in downtown Hartford, the annual production combines professional actors with the graduating class of acting students from the Hartt School of Music who get to perform opposite their faculty. Each year brings a new group of children to the company as well.
For the second year, Hartford Stage offers a sensory-friendly performance of the show for audience members on the autism spectrum. The ghosts are pretty scary, but are one of the best parts of this cleverly adapted version of the Charles Dicken’s classic novel by former Hartford Stage artistic director Michael Wilson. Maxwell Williams, a graduate of the Hartt School, returned from his new position in New Orleans to direct the show one last time, thereby ending his streak of 13 years of being associated with the Hartford Stage.
Robert Hannon Davis, a professor at Hartt School, was a beautiful Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s long-suffering clerk. Alan Rust, the director of Hartt’s Theater Division, played Bert (a fruit and cider vendor who owes money to Scrooge) and a joyful Spirit of Christmas Present. In another example of inspired casting, Hartt faculty member Johanna Morrison played Bettye Pidgeon, a doll vendor also in debt to the miser, as well as the ghost of Christmas Past. Noble Shropshire played the housekeeper Mrs. Dilber and the ghost of Jacob Marley, who had a pretty impressive entrance.
Bill Raymond returned to Hartford for the sixteenth to play Ebenezer Scrooge. His Scrooge was a jolly old soul even before his transformation of heart, adding a little comedy and some contemporary references to the first act. Michael Preston played Mr. Marvel, a watchworks vendor, with glee and his clock motif was repeated throughout.
Kristen Adele was both Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs. Cratchit and Charlie Tirrell played Fezziwig, First Solicitor and the undertaker. Gillian Williams was lovely as Fred’s wife and Belle. Terrell Donnell Sledge was strong as Scrooge’s nephew and Scrooge at 30 years of age, not in the same scene of course.
And those ghostly apparitions in the Hartt School ensemble were amazing. They were dressed all in white with rattling chains and glow in the dark remnants of their method of death, and of course one ghost flew across the stage in a storm. The children of the cast share the various roles and included 12.14 Foundation’s Jane Shearin of Newtown in the role of Scrooge’s sister Fan. Kudos to the up and coming actors in both ensembles for keeping up with the pros.
At the performance I attended Hartford’s mayor Pedro Segarra appeared as the second solicitor and seemed very comfortable on this stage. Darko Tresnjak called the outgoing mayor a big supporter of the arts and noted that this was perhaps his fifth time appearing at the Hartford Stage.
The scenic design by Tony Straiges set the mood, and costumes by Alejo Vietti (original costumes design was by Zack Brown) were perfect for the period. The atmospheric lighting was designed by Robert Wierzel kept up the tone.
The production runs at Hartford Stage through Dec. 27.
Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Bill Raymond, has some unwanted company in his bedroom. Photo by T. Charles Erickson