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'A Christmas Carol' remains a holiday gem

By JULIE McHALE - TImeOut Theater Critic 

December 12, 2013

 

MILWAUKEE - When a story continues to attract an audience after 170 years, when a story has been converted into a stage play, several film versions, a musical and even a few spoofs, it definitely has proven its continued popularity. 

The Milwaukee Rep’s annual presentation of “A Christmas Carol” is still drawing many patrons in its 38th year running, so it’s obvious that Charles Dickens’ classic tale of greed and redemption still moves us.

The production itself is stunning, involving a plethora of actors, directors of music and choreography, scenic designers, costumers, lighting and sound designers, casting and dialect coaches. More than 35 actors, some playing multiple roles, comprise the large cast that also includes 19 children.

It is quite amazing when one sees how the whole production comes together and always seems to proceed in seamless fashion.  Director Aaron Posner had a massive challenge with a show of this proportion, but he managed to somehow pull it off again.

Many familiar faces dot the landscape here - Jonathan Smoots, James Pickering, Emily Trask, Jonathan Wainwright, Melody Betts, Marti Gobel, Renata Friedman and Luigi Sottile. Some new faces include Beth Mulkerron and Michael Doherty, both of whom appeared recently in “Ragtime.”

Christopher Donahue returns in the key role as Scrooge. He again delivers the iconic character with a nice mix of angst and humor. It is a joy to witness his gradual transformation from a crotchety miser to a man with fresh insights and determined resolve.

The story of redemption echoes through the years. Humans are certainly capable of greed, pettiness and selfishness, but they are also capable of love, forgiveness and hope.  We’ve probably all been somewhere on the continuum many times in our lives. We’ve all made mistakes, experienced regret and tried to change. If we are honest with ourselves, we can relate to the Scrooges, the Freds and the Bob Cratchits of the world.  We also can empathize with Belle as she experiences rejection and neglect when young Scrooge chooses ambition over love. Many of us have also been concerned about the health of a given child, such as the endearing Tiny Tim.

So there is much to derive from this story over and over again. It gives us the opportunity to engage in our own life review.  We need reminding sometimes to look inward, and when that reminding is told with such splendid music, such masterful acting against such a colorful backdrop, we gain much more than we would from merely reading the story.

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens and adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and Edward Morgan, runs through Dec. 24 in the sumptuous Pabst Theater at 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Call 414-224-9490 for show tickets and performance times.