The Howard – Theater Review – “A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas” – Hartford Stage 2018

Hartford Stage
Play :  A Christmas CarolA Ghost Story of Christmas
Reviewer: Howard Steven Frydman

In Scarlet town where I was born, There was a fair maid dwelling, And every youth cried well away, For her name was Barbara Allen” – 

Three sisters, dressed all in plaid and wearing bows in their hair, between awkward giggles are singing quietly this tearful Victorian ballad, “Barbara Allen”, to themselves in the outer vestibule of the Hartford Stage. Joining so many others in queue, these young ladies eagerly await as I, for the doors to open to see the seasonal holiday favorite, Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol- A Ghost Story of Christmas” now celebrating its 21st season. The song “Barbara Allen”, that they now begin to gingerly snap their fingers too, is indeed a dulcet calling card and designates the trio as authentic “Fan” fans – fanciers of Scrooge’s sister Fan. Those in earshot cannot help ourselves in smiling broadly to their caroling and even mildly humming along in our collective enthusiasm upon being a witness to the ever approaching theatrical production what can only be called a true Hartford Holiday tradition. 

Yes- some indeed may call it a tradition, and that’s rightly so, yet I must state it’s in actuality the joyous “Annual Gathering” of “Fan Fans”, “Scrooge-ettes” and dotty “Dilber-doos” of what its members “far and away” fondly call – The Society of Scrooge! I so freely admit, I have been a part of this S.O.S. for most of its 21 years and have been one fortunate theater goer, able to state that I have seen so many of  original Director Michael Wilson’s production cast-mates perform –  such as Natalie Brown, Bill Kux, Johanna Morrison, and the one and only Bill Raymond who retired from the role of Scrooge two years ago. 

Yet so familiar with the Scrooge tale, once again I sit in erstwhile anticipation of the story of Scrooge to unfold. I take note of the looming clock above set at the current 7 O’clock designation. The theater is full, every seat taken, children of all ages who may still believe in Santa Claus are here to see the Grinch-like Scrooge. They await the 2 hour transformation, watching a Grinch’s small heart grow in size and finally believing in the true meaning of Christmas. Its a merry bewilderment. Our 21st annual sojourn to Victorian London commences,   a rendezvous with that lovable scallawag, Ebenezer Scrooge, and a most enthusiastic reunion with a trio of holiday spirits be it past, present or future – and WE LOVE IT!

Cast changes that were made last year continue. Michael Preston, in his second year is once again our heartless miserly Mr. Ebenezer.  As discussed last year his portrayal of Scrooge is more akin to the 1951 classic film version starring Alastair Sim, – “The Gold Standard of Scrooge Films”  – that to this day still gives me nightmares – and that my friends is indeed a Good Thing!  His acting- he provides us all a simply wonderful –  deplorable “Bah-Humbug” Ebenezer- bravo!

Preston is currently Chair of the Department of Theater and Dance at Trinity College in Hartford and has performed as a member of the juggling and comedy troupe- the Flying Karamazov Brothers. Though a bit of his juggling is utilized during the second act Christmas transformation, it is hoped that Director Rachel Alderman and Preston can add additional giggles and glee to the old Scrooge – please Sir – more juggling and comedy in future productions.

My friends let me simply state the extraordinary actor, Mr. Noble Shropshire, STEALS this production “oh so”  handily  – what a delight to behold! Duel roles that are not to be missed- one minute the “chains I made in life” of ghastly ghost of Scrooge’s ex-partner, Jacob Marley, and then portraying Scrooge’s amorous and most beloved housekeeper Mrs. Dilber. A comedic genius is he- depicting delicate Mrs. Dilber with a wink and a nod-  and then a Frosted Grand Ghoul howling warnings of spirits to come. The house literally echos with throngs of cheers and applause at every turn of Noble’s chains or duster. At my most recent visit, Mr. Noble Shropshire received a standing ovation at productions conclusion- Bravo Mr. Shropshire!

Our three spirits –  Rebecka Jones returns to the role of Bettye Pidgeon, Spirit of Christmas Past and Krusty Old Josie.  Alan Rust- he literally has the grandest entrance of all, as the “Spirit of Christmas Present” and Bert the cider vender and John-Andrew Morrison portrays the marvelous Mr. Marvel. 

The cast also includes Terrell Donnell Sledge as Fred; the extraordinary Robert Hannon Davis as Bob Cratchit;  Shauna Miles as Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs. Cratchit; Vanessa R. Butler as Belle and Fred’s Wife; Kenneth De Abrew as First Solicitor, Undertaker, Mr. Fezziwig; Buzz Roddy as second solicitor; Tiny Tim is portrayed by Andrew Michaels and RJ Vercellone; once again for all you Fan- Fans- Lily Girard and Tessa Rosenfield as the one and only- “Fan”, and a host of excellent talented students from the Hartt School as Ghostly Apparitions including: Sarah Killough, Austin Doughty, Mark Lawrence, Peter Mann, Ariana Ortman, Haley Tyson, Leslie Blake Walker, Matthew Werner and Karla Gallegos.

I freely admit to all –  that the Hartford Stage’s annual holiday production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story”, still brings a tear to one’s eye while making one’s spirits light as a feather, and disposition bright as new fallen snow at its heartfelt conclusion – and that my friends is indeed a good thing!! Thank you Hartford Stage for these tears of glad tidings – as they say – “If there is an essence of Christmas in the air – then there is Christmas in your heart.

Wishing all a very Merry Yuletide and a Happy Turning of the Calendar. Enjoy!

Tickets for the Hartford Stage production of “A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas” are on sale now and can be purchased by calling (860) 527-5151 or by visiting http://www.hartfordstage.org. Weeknight and evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are Saturdays, Sundays and select weekdays at 2 p.m.

Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howards2424@gmail.com.

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