By Mary Boyle
After unveiling a brand new production last season, with record-breaking ticket sales, The Milwaukee Repertory Theater brings back many familiar faces, but also makes some important tweaks to this season's holiday tradition of A Christmas Carol at the Pabst Theater.
Now in its 42nd year, A Christmas Carol has undergone numerous changes over its lifetime, but perhaps none so dramatic as the amazing set design created by Todd Edwards Ivins, which was unveiled last season, and continues to inspire awe. The streets of Victorian England actually move from Scrooge's Counting House to his dark, cold home, and even from the past to the future. The costumes, by Alexander B. Tecoma, have also been given a beautiful update, and are more close to the time period and what is described in Charles Dickens' story. Music Director, Dan Kazemi, who directed several of The Rep's musicals, including Guys & Dolls, I Love a Piano, and Man of La Mancha, brings his magic to A Christmas Carol, as well.
Last season also saw a significant change in the way the story was told, involving quite a lot of audience participation; a British style of theatre known as "panto," which is quite common across the pond around the holiday season, but didn't go over quite as well here. Clearly Director Mark Clements headed the reviews and, while there is still some audience participation involved, it is much improved from last season. The dark parts of the story, such as the appearance of Marley, the Ghost of Christmas Future and Ignorance and Want, are still quite dark, scary, and sometimes loud, and may be a bit much for young children, though these parts were also toned down from last season. Then again, Charles Dickens, who makes his appearance and begins the tale himself, does warn us that it is, in fact, a ghost story.
Many of the actors from last year's production returned in their same roles this season: most notably, Jonathan Wainwright, who is wonderful as Dickens and Scrooge; the amazing Angela Iannone, as Mrs. Fezziwig, Mrs. Dilber, and more; Reese Madigan as Bob Cratchit; the lovely Deborah Staples as the Ghost of Christmas Past; and, of course, the venerable Jonathan Smoots as the Ghost of Marley. Jesse Bhamrah, who was in the ensemble last season as an Emerging Professional Artist at The Rep, takes his turn as Scrooge's nephew, Fred, and Annelyse Ahmad, who is an ERP this season at The Rep, plays Fred's wife, Ellen. Milwaukee favorites, Rána Roman and Todd Denning, come on board as Mrs. Cratchit and a whole new Ghost of Christmas Present, and Michael J. Farina, who was recently Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys & Dolls, is a perfect Mr. Fezziwig.
New to The Rep are Arya Daire, as Belle, Brade Bradshaw as Dick Wilkins and the Ghost of Christmas Future, Kim Giddens as Alice, Kelsey Rodriguez as Nanny, Daniel Stock as Belle's Husband, and Christopher Peltier as a very believable Young Scrooge. Also new in the ensemble are Anthony Baldasare, Trachel Yvette Green, and Alex Morales.
There are a lot of children in A Christmas Carol who have also been in the cast before, including Ashley Bock, who returns for her third year and plays Tiny Tim this season; Teddy Anagnostopoulos as Sniffer, who returns for his third year; Amalia Cecsarini, who plays the Turkey Boy this season, but has played Tiny Tim twice; Gabe Smith as Young Scrooge, who returns for his seventh year; Tory Trettin as Fan, who returns for her fifth year; Jack Trettin as Boy Scrooge, who returns for his fifth year; Kai Liebenstein, ensemble, who returns for her third year; Liam Jeninga as Peter Cratchit, who returns for his second year; and Jack Burns, Tighe Leszczynski, and Ethan Sprague, who are all in the ensemble and return for their third, second, and second year, respectively. New to The Rep this season are Olivia Vitrano as Want, Eloise Bejma as Emily Cratchit and Ignorance, Taylor Shanel Barnes as Martha Cratchit, Anthony Wells as Mathew Cratchit, Juliana Garcia-Malacara as Belinda Cratchit, Jakobie Jackson as Thomas, and Makayla Campbell in the ensemble.
Dickens' story never gets old, and a bit of snow falling in the historic Pabst theatre accompanied by some beautifully sung Christmas Carols does wonders to put one in the holiday spirit. All in all, A Christmas Carol remains a memorable, magical holiday tradition.
A Christmas Carol runs through December 24th at the Pabst Theater, located at 108 E. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased online at www.milwaukeerep.com, by phone at (414) 224-9490. or at the Box Office at 108 E. Wells Street.
About The Rep
In its 64th Season, Milwaukee Repertory Theater is dedicated to providing the highest level of professional theater to Milwaukee and Wisconsin, in addition to offering a wide range of educational and community programs. Under the leadership of Artistic Director, Mark Clements, and Managing Director, Chad Bauman, Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee's rich diversity.