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A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Rep

The cast of “A Christmas Carol” at the rep, through Dec. 23, 2021. Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson. Courtesy of the Repertory Theater of St. Louis

Charles Dickens’s classic “A Christmas Carol” is a favorite fixture of the holiday season with countless versions, including musicals, gracing various stages. This year, the Repertory Theater of St. Louis offers it’s first-ever production of Michael Wilson’s version of this delightful old chestnut, something the Rep plans as an annual tradition. This “A Christmas Carol” is not a musical, although it has a few songs, and it is the same beloved Christmas story, just with some delightful embellishments and a refreshing little dose of humor.

Hana S. Sharif, Artistic Director of the Rep, directs this excellent, enjoyable new production. This production is new to the Rep but it has played across the country, where it has been well received. Refreshing and delightful are good words for this lightly updated production. No fear, the story still takes place in Victorian London, and the costumes and sets reflect that, but there is an unexpected (yet pleasant) touch of modern sensibility that brings something fresh to the old favorite.

As always, we meet miser Ebeneezer Scrooge (Guiesseppe Jones) on Christmas eve. After having begrudgingly agreed to give his clerk Bob Cratchit the “whole day” off for Christmas and driven off both his nephew and a pair seeking a donation for the poor with a “bah humbug” and some Malthusian economics, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley (Michael James Reed), who urges his old friend to reconsider his cold-hearted ways and then tells him he will be visited that night by three Christmas spirits.

All the old favorite characters are here: Armando McClain as Bob Cratchit, Michelle Hand as Mrs. Cratchit, Laakan McHardy as Christmas Past, Paul Aguirre as Christmas Present, and Eric Dean White as Christmas Future.

The cast for this show includes a lot of children, which adds extra delight to street scenes and party ones, the result of a partnership with COCA’s youth program. Georgia Reynolds and Rian Amirikal Page alternate in the role of Tiny Tim, and most cast members play more than one role, including the children.

Among the production’s highlights are some extra “spirits,” who dance around the sleeping Scrooge before the major ones arrive, adding a touch of magic. The production features some nice brief dance numbers, a few special effects surprises, and some inventive, eye-popping costumes for the primary spirits. Particularly impressive is the costume for Christmas Past, a kind of cabinet that opens to reveal a shimmering spirit, and a Segway-type prop providing gliding movement for the Ghost of Christmas Future. Credit goes to costume designer Dede Ayite, set designer Tim Mackabee and fine choreography by Kirven Douthit-Boyd, as well as the performers.

Since we all know the story, it adds an extra bit of fun that some of the roles are played a bit broad. Jones adds a bit of extra energetic bluster to his role as Scrooge and can “bah, humbug” with the best of them. Michael James Reed brings a touch of menace to his booming-voiced Marley, adding chills and then switches gears as Scrooge’s bustling housekeeper, with occasional grumbling asides, who adds most of the comedy, and is played by a cross-dressing Reed. All the cast do well and all those kids add a special touch.

Because it is a bit different, although still largely faithful to the original classic, some traditional purists may not be as pleased with this version. Yet traditionalists are encouraged to give it a try, and may find themselves pleasantly surprised. As someone who loves this story myself but has seen it many, many times, there is something delightful in seeing a new take on it. This production does not re-imagine the whole thing, like “Scrooged” did, just brushes it up a bit in places. Nothing wrong with that.

This fresh production throws in a lot of wonderful new grace notes, including its touch of humor. Most of these grace notes work very well, although a few are not entirely successful. When two people come to Scrooge’s office to ask for a charitable donation, the production casts a man and woman, J. Samuel Davis (who also plays Old Fezziwig) and Melissa Harlow, instead of the usual two men, yet Scrooge still refers to them as if they are both men, a mismatch which tends to take us out of the moment. Several old Christmas carols are included in the show but also another traditional song, “Barbara Allen,” which, while a pretty tune, feels out of place. Still, the production earns an A for effort and these minor distractions do not detract in any real way from this thoroughly enjoyable show.

“A Christmas Carol” is on the Mainstage of the Repertory Theater of St. Louis through Dec. 23.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

© Cate Marquis