God Bless This 'Christmas Carol' at Soulpepper Theatre

Joe Szekeres

  • OnStage Toronto Critic

When the adorable Cody Black as Tiny Tim Cratchit voices the famous line from literature, “God bless us, everyone”, even the most hardened of hearts will melt at how this young performer’s delivery says a great deal in so brief a moment. The bursting charm of a Dickensian Christmas will most certainly bring joy, and even an occasional tear to the eye, in Michael Shamata’s gloriously elegant adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL now on stage at Soulpepper Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District.

Since September 2017, it has been a privilege to see how professional and non-professional theatre companies in the GTA have created extraordinary ensemble live productions, and this CHRISTMAS CAROL is top notch. An individual who sat next to me even remarked how he watches the Alastair Sim version every Christmas Eve and Soulpepper’s production, for him, has raised the bar even further as this one tops the black and white film.

Once again, the period piece visual effects at Soulpepper are gorgeously and exquisitely captured from John Ferguson and his team’s costume designs to the set design and props which fluidly move off and on stage. Geordie Haley’s musical compositions are most pleasing to the ear. Alan Brodie’s warm lighting design incorporates and encapsulates poignant moments – one moment most notably occurs as Scrooge (Joseph Ziegler) stands looking at his tombstone with horrible regret. This particular production is mounted as theatre in the round which is quite effective for this show; however, there were slight and minute problems with clarity especially when actors had their backs turned to one part of  the audience.

Soulpepper’s production was originally directed and adapted by Michael Shamata, and this current production now on stage has been remounted by director Joseph Ziegler who also plays the miserly central protagonist. It’s obvious Mr. Ziegler enjoys playing this iconic role and we, as audience members, happily go along for the ride filled with many heart rending moments. Two of them occur where the young Ebenezer (Kawa Ada) walks away from Belle (Krystin Pellerin), the young woman who broke his heart as a young man. In the transformation scene at the play’s conclusion where Ebenezer jumps giddily on the stage like a school boy, even this ol’ guy started to tear up as Mr. Ziegler’s performance is one of growth, insight and merriment. Pure joy indeed.

As Bob Cratchit, Jordan Pettle’s emotional performance matches that of Mr. Zielger. Pay close attention to the moment where the Ghost of Christmas Present leads the elder Scrooge on various moments in his life where he is taken to the Cratchit house and the deceased Tiny Tim is lying on the table. Even in the “stiff upper lip, let’s get on with things after a death” adage, Mr. Pettle’s stunning emotional breakdown at his deceased son’s side drew many tears from those sitting around me.  As Jacob Marley and the three Spirits of Christmas, John Jarvis masterfully propels the pace of the action forward. His Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come silently and terrifyingly warns Ebenezer, and all of us, how important it is to care for others at Christmas and throughout the year.

Michael Shamata’s adaptation has become a holiday favourite over the years, and I for one look forward to seeing it again in future Christmases.  Give yourself and loved ones an early Christmas present and get to see this if you again.  Oh, and by the way, “Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone.”

A CHRISTMAS CAROL continues performances at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Distillery Historic District, 50 Tank House Lane on December 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 at 7:30 pm AND December 16, 17, 20, 21, 23 and 24 at 1:30 pm.  Visit www.soulpepper.ca for further information on ticket availability.