ORLANDO — With plenty of holiday stage productions to choose from, Orlando Shakes made a conservative choice this year, and a wise one, to revive their elaborate and festive version of Charles Dickens’ beloved ghost story “A Christmas Carol,” complete with a large and talented cast, some effectively creepy ghosts, traditional holiday tunes sung to perfection — and their lavishly designed set that’s a marvel to look at.
Billed as a “Back by popular demand” production, I can certainly understand why it got chosen. This theatrical version of the Dickens novella, adapted by the Shakes’ artistic director Jim Helsinger, was a hit last December and no doubt did inspire more than a few patrons to request that it be performed again this year. Let’s say that what worked in 2022 is done just as successfully in this latest production.
What is A Christmas Carol?
The story works so well because Dickens gave us one of literature’s most memorable characters, the embittered, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who thunders “Bah! Humbug!” on Christmas Eve to the notion of holiday cheer, chases off two women collecting donations for the poor, and complains bitterly that his worker Bob Cratchit excepts a day off with pay on Christmas Day — an irritating intrusion, Scrooge grumbles, and nothing more than an opportunity to “pick a man’s pocket.”
How did Scrooge become so sour and miserable? Dickens cleverly demonstrates that when Scrooge returns to his home to be greeted by the ghost of his late business partner Marley, who warns Scrooge that his own miserly living has left him enduring a wretched afterlife, and he warns his former partner to change his ways now, to avoid this sorry fate. But just to be certain he does, Marley arranges for Scrooge to be visited that night by three ghosts — of Christmas past, present and future.
Helsinger sticks closely to the Dickens story, as the Ghost Of Christmas Past shows us how Scrooge made ill-fated decisions that would later leave him embittered, and the Ghost Of Christmas Present shows how Bob Cratchit and his family, without the benefit of Scrooge’s wealth, can still find joy on Christmas Eve.
And it’s the Ghost of Christmas Future who presents Scrooge was a terrifying vision of what’s to come — and not just for himself.
It’s one of literature’s greatest ghost stories, and it fits the holiday setting perfectly once you get to the ending, a true tearjerker ending.
How is the Orlando Shakes’ Production of A Christmas Carol?
There’s a lot to marvel at with this production, starting with the fabulous set design that has rotating sets for Scrooge’s office, his bedroom, and other important locations for the story. The craftsmanship that went into building these sets is simply stunning.
The performances are first rate. Philip Nolen has a grand time playing the larger than life Scrooge, often emphasizing the comedic aspects of his befuddled character, while Emmanuel Cadet has his own fun with the Ghost Of Christmas Present, eager to show Scrooge that the spirit of the season doesn’t fade away if there’s no money in the pocket. Mark Edward Smith gives us a Marley that’s both amusing and more than a little eerie.
The story is beautifully accompanied by the work of cellist Jean-Marie Glazer, who helps set the mood with his gorgeous music. Add in some beautifully performed old holiday classics and this is an expert way to get locals into the holiday spirit.
Where Can I See A Christmas Carol?
The Orlando Shakes’ production of A Christmas Carol is being performed now through Dec. 24 at the theater at 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park. To make reservations or buy tickets, call the Box Office at (407) 447-1700
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.