By Mary Boyle
Now in its 44th year, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL is the second-longest, continuous running professional production of Charles Dickens' iconic novella in the country. The show is a part of the holiday traditions of dozens of area families, but has also become a tradition for several of Milwaukee's finest actors, who continue to return to the production, year after year. For those who have yet to experience it, perhaps this is the year to go and see why this particular story—a Christmas ghost story published in 1843—continues to enchant audience and actors, alike.
A Christmas Carol, of course, is the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge, a mean and miserly old man who runs a counting house in Victorian London with his single, ill-treated employee, the good-natured Bob Cratchit. On the night before Christmas, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former partner, Marley, who warns Scrooge that he will be doomed to his terrible fate in the afterlife if he does not change his ways. To help him, Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future. The spirits, by reminding him of his past mistakes and showing him what his future will be if he continues on his path, teach Scrooge a lesson about the true Spirit of Christmas.
Mark Clements, the Rep's Artistic Director, unveiled his version of this classic four years ago, featuring an astounding rotating set design by Todd Edward Ivins, all new costumes by Alexander B. Tecoma, and a new audience participation aspect, which they've dialed back a bit in the following seasons so that is is less obnoxious. Clements' version highlights the ghost story aspect of the tale that may be too loud and scary for young audiences. There are several parts of the play that have a horror-movie quality to them, such as when the ghost of Marley makes his entrance and just about everything involving the Ghost of Christmas Future. In my humble opinion, it is overly scary for a family holiday production; if your children are overly sensitive to brightness and noise, you may want to wait before taking them on the journey with Scrooge and stick to The Muppet Christmas Carol, instead.
Still, Jonathan Wainwright is excellent as Dickens and Scrooge and I absolutely adore Angela Iannone in all of her roles (Mrs. Fezziwig, Assistant to Dickens, Charitable Worker and Mrs. Dilber); she is simply a delight to watch. Reese Madigan, Todd Denning, James Pickering, and Mark Corkins reprise their roles as Bob Cratchit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, Mr. Fezziwig/Charitable Worker, and the Ghost of Marley, respectively. The biggest change this year is Tami Workentin in the role of Ghost of Christmas Past, which was quite different from Deborah Staples, who has played the role for the ps. All in all, a delightful cast and still a magical performance that can't help but put one in a Christmas mood, between the red and gold beauty of the historic Pabst Theater and the beautifully sung Christmas Carols. If you have yet to make this production a part of your Christmas tradition, give it a try.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL runs through December 24th at the historic Pabst Theater, located at located at 144 E. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased by calling (414) 224-9490, in-person at the Box Office at 108 E. Wells, or online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com.