For youngsters growing up in the DC area, chances are the Ford’s Theatre production of A Christmas Carol was one of the shows they experienced. Since this year marks the 35th anniversary of the perennial offering at the historic theatre, that means an entire generation of theatre-goers have been introduced to the magic of Christmas and Dickens’ story of redemption.
Taking the cue from Dickens’ own title, this production pours on both the Christmas and the carols, offering a play chock full of traditional Advent and Christmas hymns and carols that would seem right at home in mid-19th Century London. From its first moments, the carolers – i.e. the hard-working ensemble of children and adults – ambles through the audience and onto the stage to place us in the mood. Donning costumes (Alejo Vietti, designer), the actors’ wardrobe is rich in Victorian splendor or squalor, depending on their station.
The mood changes considerably when the imposing clock strikes the hour and the pre-show frivolity gives way to the story at hand, that of Ebenezer Scrooge, famous for his stern, formidable eye on business and no time for such trifles as Christmas cheer. I need not recap the entire story, but I will revel in the twists Michael Wilson’s dramatization folds into the familiar tale.
This Christmas Carol is enhanced by a fuller picture of Scrooge, the creditor, who we see visit three Londoners indebted to him: Felicia Curry as the Doll Vendor, Barbara Pinolini as the Fruit Vendor, and Stephen F. Schmidt as the inventive inventor Mr. Marvel. Each figure into the larger story of his nocturnal journey through time and space. Let’s just say this version is aptly subtitled “a Ghost Story of Christmas.”
Speaking of Scrooge, that “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner,” what of him. This year also marks the first time in seven that a different actor puts on the nightcap and utters “Humbug.” One of the DMV’s most seasoned actors, Ed Gero, originated the iconic role when this adaptation premiered in 2009 and played it through last year. Now, another recognizable actor takes on Scrooge for the 35th anniversary, like Gero, one who is no stranger to area stages, Craig Wallace.
Wallace truly makes Scrooge his own, a fact I never doubted since it was announced he would assume the role. Wallace is adept at both the classics and contemporary pieces and his command of the dramatic and comic is well documented. His Scrooge is one of the most unique I have experienced, and I have seen many Ebenezer’s in my time. Wallace certainly nails the curmudgeon and the taskmaster, a no-brainer. What fascinated me the most about his Scrooge is that he also used his solid frame and physical presence to fine effect; this was no humped over Albert Finney in “Scrooge – The Musical.” This was Scrooge – the Man – imposing enough that there was a sense of danger when he called upon the vendors to collect a debt, or when he bellowed at a passersby. Coupled with his powerful and supple vocal instrument, Wallace’s Ebenezer Scrooge is a fully realized, complex character who truly transforms from start to finish and was a pleasure to watch.
Matching Wallace in vocal prowess and stage worthiness is the Jacob Marley of James Konicek, another welcome veteran of Ford’s Theatre productions and beyond. With long, stringy hair, and his Ichabod Crane-frame, Konicek’s spectral Marley brings frightful fun to the pivotal role of Scrooge’s old business partner.
It was also great to see Rick Hammerly twinkle and gambol as the big-hearted, nimble-footed Mr. Fezziwig from Scrooge’s past Christmases. Hammerly is always a delight onstage and his Fezziwig brims with gusto and put me in mind of an old, English music hall performer or the immortal George Rose. (Suggestion: Some theatre needs to revive The Mystery of Edwin Drood and sign up Hammerly to be the Chairman!)
A Christmas Carol would not be worth it’s weight in roast goose without a kindly Bob Cratchit and heart-stealer of a Tiny Tim, and you must look no further than this production. Michael Bunce is the very model of a sweet-natured, devoted clerk for Scrooge. As the youngest Cratchit child (on press night) Jovani Morales-Shackelford was perfect as the sickly but thankful Tiny Tim. In fact the rotation of youngsters I saw were all well-balanced and held their own with the adult performers.
A Christmas Carol
closes December 31, 2016
Details and tickets
The ensemble of young and old work their Christmas magic too and everyone contributes to the infectious atmosphere of the quick-moving and impressive production, directed with an eye for detail by Michael Baron. Baron’s production can also boast an impressive, scenic design that brings to mind the Industrial Age, London and leaves plenty of room for the story to unfold. Characterized by period-inspired ironwork of spiral staircases and a moveable bridge, I half expected Sweeney Todd to pop out and offer Scrooge a shave. Lee Savage’s scenic design, coupled with the artful lighting by Rui Rita, is also impressive for providing ample opportunities for theatrical magic – quick, fluid scene changes, the flying effects and ghostly appearances – to dazzle both young and old.
Between the first class adaptation of Dickens’ story, the commanding performance by Craig Wallace, the spirited ensemble, and the engaging physical production, the 35th anniversary of A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre can still warm a heart on a winter’s night and provide a welcome entry into the holiday season.
A Christmas Carol . By Charles Dickens . Adapted by Michael Wilson . Director: Michael Baron .
Cast: Jonathan Atkinson, Michael Bunce, Ryan Burke, Felicia Curry, Maria Egler, Rick Hammerly, Yesenia Iglesias, James Konicek, Eben Logan, Gregory Maheu, Amy McWilliams, Barbara Pinolini, Stephen F. Schmidt, Craig Wallace, Lauren Williams, Jaysen Wright, Kristen Garaffo, Calvin McCullough
Associate Directors: Craig A. Horness and Patrick Pearson . Scenic Design: Lee Savage . Costume Design: Alejo Vietti . Lighting Design: Rui Rita . Original Music and Sound Design: Josh Schmidt . Choreography: Shea Sullivan . Wig Design: Charles G. LaPointe . Choral Direction: Jay Crowder . Dialects/Vocal Director: Rachel Hirshorn . Casting: Patrick Pearson . Assistant Stage Manager: Taryn Friend. Production Stage Managers: Craig A. Horness and Martita Lee Slayden . Produced by Ford’s Theatre Society . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.