By Mary Boyle
Though it may seem strange to revere a ghost story for Christmas, Charles Dickens' cautionary tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge is a holiday standard that The Milwaukee Repertory Theater has been bringing to the City for over forty years. After a major overhaul the year before last, the production is finding its new rhythm, employing many of the same familiar faces who bring continuity and a feel of tradition, while continuing to make small adjustments, but there's still no other holiday show in Milwaukee that captures the full feeling of Christmas quite as well as A Christmas Carol at the historic Pabst Theater.
There is a slight shuffling of cast members this season, but not many new faces. Most notably, Leda Hoffman takes the role of directing, after having been an Associate Director for three years and an Assistant Director for one, and Milwaukee-favorites James Pickering, who played Scrooge for 12 years, and Mark Corkins return to play Mr. Fezziwig and the Ghost of Marley, respectively. There are several of The Rep's Emerging Professional Residents who make their Carol debuts, including: Sade Ayodele as Alice, Jessica Ma as Ellen, Nima Rakhshanifar as Belle's husband, Hannah Shay as Nanny, and Justin Jones, Isabella Reeder, and Michael Wu rounding out the ensemble. Blake Dava makes his Carol debut as Dick Wilkins and the Ghost of Christmas Future.
Returning this season are Milwaukee favorites Jonathan Wainwright as Charles Dickens and Ebeneezer Scrooge, Todd Denning as Ghost of Christmas Present, Angela Iannone as Mrs. Fezziwig and more, Rana Roman as Mrs. Cratchit, and Deborah Staples as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Reese Madigan returns as Bob Cratchit and Christopher Peltier returns as Young Scrooge.
Young performers Gabe Smith and Jack Trettin reprise their roles as Teen Scrooge and Boy Scrooge, while Teddy Anagnostopoulos, Ashley Bock, and Claire Zempel return for their 4th year in different roles. Baylee Bates, Jakobie Jackson, Zachary Church, and Ethan Sprague all return to the Carol, and Coco Archuleta, Phinlee Clarkin, Priyanka Guptasarma, Elliot Oquist, Isabel Bastardo, Brooklyn Bates, Cody Sims, Casey Westphal, and Eliel Pozos-Lopez as Tiny Tim make their Christmas Carol debut.
Casting some of the area's very best talent pretty much ensures that this holiday tradition remains a holiday tradition (those Milwaukee favorites are favorites for a reason!). Angela Iannone and Jonathan Wainwright, in particular, just knock my socks off every year, and having James Pickering this season is a special treat. The set design by Todd Edward Ivins, which was newly unveiled in 2016, continues to amaze, and especially magical are the times during the show when it snows on the audience. There are still a few moments of "audience participation" that I do not care for, and parents of young and/or sensitive children should take note that the ghosts coming and going are loud, bright, and scary (unnecessarily so, as far as I'm concerned); still, A Christmas Carol at the Pabst has become a part of my holiday tradition, and I wouldn't want to miss it.
A Christmas Carol runs through December 24th at the Historic Pabst Theater, 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.
This year the A Christmas Carol Families Program, which raises funds for underprivileged families during the holiday season through audience donations at every performance of A Christmas Carol, will benefit families connected with Safe & Sound, one of The Rep’s Pillar Partners. Safe & Sound’s mission is to unite residents, youth, law enforcement and community resources to build safe and empowered neighborhoods. Rep staff and volunteers will use the collected donations to purchase holiday gifts for these families in need. Any leftover funds are then donated to Safe & Sound for all the excellent work they do in the community. In years past, The Rep has raised over $40,000 annually toward these efforts benefiting such organizations as United Community Center, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, Running Rebels, COA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, La Causa, Journey House, Sojourner Family Peace Center, Next Door Foundation and more.
About Milwaukee Repertory Theater
The Milwaukee Rep is the largest performing arts organization in Wisconsin, in terms of audiences served, and one of the largest professional theaters in the country. Each year, The Rep welcomes up to 275,000 people at nearly 700 performances of 15 productions, ranging from compelling dramas, powerful classics, new plays, and full-scale musicals in its three unique performance venues: the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio, and Stackner Cabaret. Now in its 65th Season, The Rep has gained a national reputation as an incubator of new work, an agent of community change, and a forward-thinking provider of .vital arts education programs. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mark Clements and Executive 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.