As one of the most popular Christmas stories and arguably the most well known work in Charles Dickens’ canon, A Christmas Carol can prove an exceedingly difficult landscape in which to tread any new ground. Ford’s Theatre Society has pulled off a truly impressive feat by producing a rendition of Dickens’ classic tale that actually seems fresh and breathes new life into a well-worn text. With strong performances, fantastic set pieces, elaborate costumes, and impressive musical numbers, Ford’s has crafted a dramatic spectacle that will dazzle audience members both young and old.
For those unfamiliar with the perennial favorite, A Christmas Carol traces the journey of personal redemption of one Ebenezer Scrooge, the most unpleasant, gloomy man in London. His scorn for all things joyful becomes particularly acute as Christmas Day approaches. On Christmas Eve, three ghosts take him on an emotional journey intended to change his outlook and, ultimately, save his soul. The tale’s staying power and massive popularity year in and year out is a testament to Dickens’ masterful writing as well as the timeless themes at play, chief among them generosity, compassion, and forgiveness.
The actors deliver uniformly strong performances, populating the stage with vibrant renditions of Dickens’ indelible characters. As Scrooge, Edward Gero has the daunting task of putting his own stamp on one of literature’s most famous curmudgeons. He imbues the beloved grouch with an impressive range of emotions – sneering, cowering in fear, sobbing, and laughing joyfully as he slowly learns the true meaning of the holiday season. Drew Eshelman provides a fearsome, arresting rendition of Scrooge’s ghostly partner Jacob Marley. He glowers and clanks around the stage, at certain times literally calling down the thunder as he rages at Scrooge for wasting his life. Finally, despite his rather short stage time, Garret O’Donnell delivers an adorable turn as Tiny Tim, the crippled boy with an unbreakable spirit. Never have I seen the famous “God Bless Us, Everyone” delivered better.
The musical numbers are a welcome surprise. The cast boasts a number of impressive singers who are given the chance to shine in a series of rousing holiday songs. Margo Seibert showcases her clear soprano as Belle, Ebenezer’s wife-to-be, punctuating their first meeting with a beautiful solo. Erin Driscoll and Eleasha Gamble also deliver a wonderful duet that provides the perfect conclusion to a touching party scene. The rest of the cast gets the audience singing along with Christmas favorites as they twirl and dance around the stage.
Dickens’ tale seems right at home in the newly renovated Ford’s Theatre, taking full advantage of the 19th century architecture and charm of the historic playhouse. The use of arched metal beams, wrought iron staircases, and aged storefronts places the play firmly within an Industrial Revolution, but the use of polished wood, lavish interiors, holiday bunting, and dancing snowflakes lends the industrial setting a soft edge. A number of ingenious set pieces and special effects heighten the magic of Dickens’ holiday tale, including a steam-powered car that equally delights the people onstage and in the audience.
The costumes also bear special mention for their lush fabrics and attention to detail. Each piece displays painstaking attention to detail and a love for the craft. As each new character entered the stage, I found myself distracted from the events of the play by the intricate ball gowns, sharp tuxedos, and even the garb of the drab street urchins.. The outfits worn by the three ghosts frequently steal the scene with their glittering wings, velvet folds, and elegant stitching.
Even those who do not celebrate Christmas or are not enamored of the Holiday season will heartily enjoy the lavish production. The performances and presentation are top-notch, and the underlying values of community and charity are appropriate for any time of year. Whether with friends, with your kids, with a date, or by yourself, this excellent show is well worth the trip to historic Ford’s Theatre.
A Christmas Carol – TOP PICK!
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Michael Wilson
Directed by Michael Baron
Produced by Ford’s Theatre Society
Reviewed by Ben Demers