ORLANDO — It’s not exactly “A Christmas Carol The Musical,” but music does play a significant role in the Orlando Shakes’ new production of the Charles Dickens classic. The production opens with a holiday song, there’s a rousing rendition of “Deck The Halls” midway through, and the individual scenes are given a powerful emotional boost by cellist Jean-Marie Glazer, whose sounds helps narrate the feelings and sentiments behind the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his most remarkable Christmas Eve.
There are a lot of different ways to present the Dickens play on stage. Some theaters play up the story’s humor, while others, like the new production being staged by the Victorian troop Phantasmagoria, bring a suitably spooky chill to this ghost story. Veteran actor David McElroy is now staging his annual one-man show where he plays 37 different characters.
The Orlando Shakes production, written and directed by their artistic director Jim Helsinger, has scenes of humor, poignancy, sadness, and certainly very eerie moments as well. But if there’s one word that I think most clearly defines this version of A Christmas Carol, it’s reverent.
How Does Orlando Shakes Treat A Christmas Carol?
I’ve seen a lot of productions of A Christmas Carol at Central Florida theaters in the past, and there’s always been a tendency to add something new, to catch the audience by surprise — including at the Shakes itself, which a few years ago did a modern-day version of A Christmas Carol, with a family about to celebrate Christmas when one of their children discovers the Dickens book, prompting dad to read the novella to the entire family, recreating the story on stage.
The 2022 production is definitely a “straight” version of Dickens’ story, meaning it follows the novella very closely, line by line, with narrators who set the scene in the exact same words that the author used. Everything about the production is highly opulent. It includes:
- Some gorgeous costumes designed by their team;
- A beautifully mounted revolving set that serves to recreate multiple locations for the story;
- Snow falling as Scrooge begins his journey into Christmas Past;
- A supremely talented cast of 20 gifted actors juggling the roles;
- and the irresistible used of Glazer’s musical skills to enhance the mood.
Everything works without fail, so that any A Christmas Carol purist shouldn’t have a single issue to pick about here.
How Are the Performers in A Christmas Carol?
While the cast is uniformly excellent, Nigel Gore carries the role of Scrooge beautifully, giving us a crotchety old sourpuss in the beginning whose life gets transformed on Christmas Eve when his late business partner Jacob Marley returns in ghostly form to warn Scrooge of the grisly fate that awaits him if he doesn’t change his ways. Scrooge is a difficult role to play, because while it’s certainly a highly animated one at first, Scrooge mostly becomes an observer once the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come begin showing him where his obsession with money led him astray. Gore makes for a fine observer, and you firmly believe his transformation from miser to the epitome of generosity and human kindness. Gore gives us a Scrooge to say “Bah! Humbug!” to at first, and eventually one to root for.
There are similarly boisterous performances by Timothy Williams, who is a comical delight as Scrooge’s much abused employee Bob Cratchet, Mark Edward Smith as the tormented Marley, and E. Mani Cadet, who makes a grandiose Ghost Of Christmas Present. The play makes exceptionally good use of child actors; young Graham Barker has a hilarious scene toward the end as the boy asked by Scrooge to buy a giant turkey for him.
One of the show’s true highlights is the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a truly frightening and disturbing spirit that towers over Scrooge, showing him a glimpse into his wretched future. The spirit is especially ominous as it pushes Scrooge toward a table with a body lying on top, covered by a white sheet, urging him to lift the sheet and see who lies there … if he dares …
Virtually nothing is done here to tamper with Dickens’ novella outside of honoring its effectiveness around the holidays, and I loved the way this show evoked a feeling of an old Christmas, a bygone time of Christmas carols in the public square and the undeniable urge to find happiness in your life and goodness in others. It speaks volume that as I was exiting the theater, a woman reached out, touched my arm, and felt the urge to tell me that the show brought tears to her eyes. “That’s how wonderful it was,” she gushed.
Where Can I See A Christmas Carol?
A Christmas Carol will be performed at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park. The play opened on Friday and will run through Christmas Eve. Call 407-447-1700 for tickets or more information.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.