- OnStage Boston Theatre Critic
‘A Christmas Carol’ was written by Charles Dickens in 1843 and has since become a holiday classic. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve who remind him of his past, guide him through his present and show him his potential future. By the end of these visits, Scrooge finds himself permanently changed and vows to be a better man to those around him and keep the Spirit of Christmas alive all year long.
Over the years this story has been adapted into films, stage productions and more. Each year families will gather together to take in a production of this story, be it a film like ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’ or a lavish stage production performed by a local theatre company. What makes MRT’s production stand-out amongst the rest is its simplistic approach to sharing this story as Charles Dickens himself would have shared it and allowing the audience the opportunity to focus on its message of hope, redemption, compassion and love.
Adapted by Tony Brown, this version gives us the story as told by author Charles Dickens in a similar fashion to how Dickens himself did public readings of the novella over the last eighteen years of his life before passing in 1870. What enriches this minimalistic production further is the performance of traditional carols by two musicians throughout. The choice by the creative team, led by director Megan Sandberg-Zakian, to include music in the telling of this well-known story was an inspired decision that I believe truly enhanced the performance. Music director Nathan Leigh selected songs that were around when Dickens was writing the story and was careful to include the lyrics of the time and not the revised versions that were written years later. So while the tunes were oftentimes familiar to audience members, many might not have noticed the lyrical differences which added another level of authenticity to this production.
Taking on the role of Charles Dickens and wonderfully bringing life to characters of this story, including the wealthy but tightfisted Ebenezer Scrooge, is stage veteran Joel Colodner. With his rich voice and charming persona, he grabs the audience’s attention within moments of stepping on stage and for the next two hours had us amused and chuckling one minute and pondering our own lives the next. His invested, emotional portrayal of Scrooge humanized a character who oftentimes can be viewed as just a cranky, stingy old man. Colodner brought new life to him and gave the audience a fresh perspective of this old story.
Also on stage were Rebecca White, one of the musicians who also portrayed the three ghosts, as well as Nathan Leigh the second musician and music director whose instrument selections for the carols were ingenious and completely fit within the story. Having seen this play performed with these two fantastic musicians, it makes me wonder if I would have liked it as much without them. And honestly, I don’t think the play would have had the same impact on the audience as it does with the added musicians.
The technical elements of this production nicely matched the tone of the play and made the audience feel as though we may be sitting in someone’s living room hearing this story told to us and singing carols during a holiday gathering. The scenic design was by Randall Parsons with lighting design by Devorah Kengmana. The costumes were designed by Miranda Kau Giurleo.
This production is unique from any other I have seen and it was refreshingly enjoyed by the audience who gave it a well-deserved standing ovation. © ‘A Christmas Carol’ plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, until December 24th, 2017. Tickets range from $73-$26 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors, Lowell residents, and military service members. To purchase tickets or find more information visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.
Photo Credit: Rebecca White and Joel Colodner. Photo by Meghan Moore.