We are all familiar with the story of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” so there are zero spoilers. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser, doesn’t care about the poor, and his heart grows three times bigger at the end (okay, the last part is The Grinch, but it’s the same sentiment).
Now we come to the current production of “A Christmas Carol” by the new Theatre 121 that’s playing now at the historic Woodstock Opera House. I appreciated the bit of fresh touches to the production.
The creative troika of the beginning of this work; the unique (to “A Christmas Carol”) entry into Act I; and the exit into intermission all toss a bit of fresh lettuce into what could easily be an otherwise stale salad. Directing an iconic holiday piece isn’t easy when trying to put a little “unexpected” into what already is well-known. Mr. Neumann also put together a fabulous set where pieces were easily moved in and out for each scene without too much encumbrance upon the actors … or patience from the audience.
It’s important to note the actors, with the exception of the heavy-duty Scrooge role, all take on multiple parts. The younger members of the troupe performed admirably as they moved from character to character. They did so well I had to do a couple of double-takes to realize they were the same person who effortlessly shifted from one persona to another, let alone shifted in costume.
Actors taking on multiple roles also put a burden on the director to ensure separation … and the costume designer. I’ve touched upon the director, but the costumes? Superb. Costume designer Christi Nicholson really worked to present each character as true to the times and went all out to distinguish each ghost as their own entity.
The ghosts are what make “A Christmas Carol”. Vincent Prisco played Jacob Marley. With his physical chains and mental pains, he looked severely weighed down as he plodded, warning Scrooge of what his current behavior may render.
Jade Strong as The Ghost of Christmas Past delighted in showing everything good about Scrooge’s past and has an evil sincerity in delighting him about what once was. Charlaine Tiffany as the Ghost of Christmas Future was foreboding, nearly deathly in her silence as she guided Scrooge into what might be.
And then we have the “middle” ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Present. “Present” is a great word for Tracey Lanman’s work. The costuming for the Ghost of Christmas Present is loud, but Ms. Lanman took it and ran with it … as much as you can run in a dress large enough to have a table of four under the skirt.
As for Scrooge, without a solid performance from the main character who carries the story, you have no play. Peter Heimsoth’s delivery of Scrooge is simply marvelous. He has taken what is an oft-repeated character and molded it into a work we, as well as he, can cherish. That in itself is worthy of purchasing a ticket.
My only consternation regarding the production was the lack of music. It is sorely missing. I would have liked to have a little music, even a quartet, to fill some of the gaps. The singing is good, but without instruments, this version of “A Christmas Carol” is like a Thanksgiving dinner where the meal in its entirety is very good, but the turkey is dry.
However, I do recommend you take your family to go see it. The sentiment itself certainly can put even the most curmudgeonly of us into a festive holiday mood, and the Woodstock Opera House is like taking a step back in time.
• Rick Copper is a writer, photographer, storyteller, part-time actor and comedian with a framed master’s degree from the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism and a loose certificate of completion sheet of paper from Second City’s improv program.