‘Tis the season to bring out the old battle axe of Christmas shows, A Christmas Carol. Few companies haven’t rolled out the old girl in one form or another, from musicals and staged readings to productions stripped down, gussied up, never-before-seen (we swear!), and, probably, burlesque. It’s easy to utter “Bah, humbug” when it comes to A Christmas Carol, even if there are Muppets in it. It’s like fruitcake. It’s not Officially Christmas until you’ve had some, but there’s hesitation because you remember the bad years more than the good.
This jaded holiday mistrust is a bit of a shame because there are some delicious fruitcakes out there, and ACT happens to be serving some. ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) has got its holiday tradition down to a science, but its humble production of this perennial classic wondrously doesn’t lose its magic.
The minimalist set and props allow the imagination to take wing as Scrooge and the spirits take a ghostly tour of London Christmases past, present, and future. When the special effects are sparse, it is all the more whimsical when the Ghost of Christmas Present (a jolly G. Valmont Thomas) rises from the floor while “wine” streams down from the ceiling into his chalice.
Director John Lang’s lively staging makes engaging use of the Allen Theatre, which is in the round. Forgive the preciousness of the expression, but the star of this cast is the ensemble, who seamlessly weave in and out as narrators and minor characters.
Kurt Beattie’s Scrooge expertly balances archetype and personal interpretation; even though the character arc is well-known, it’s impossible not to take delight and satisfaction in Scrooge’s revelations. Justin Alley’s Bob Cratchit is particularly moving, especially his interactions with Tiny Tim (Anna Imehana Lilinoe Ostrem returns to play the role). Bradford Farwell is a frightening Marley. Other standouts include Ian Bell and Jocelyn Maher’s ebullient Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, and Matt Schwader’s optimistic Fred, Scrooge’s nephew.
The show is 90 minutes long with no intermission and clips along nicely without rushing the tender and funny moments, of which there are many. If you’re not looking for a sparkly, loud Christmas extravaganza, but a more reflective, simply beautiful piece of holiday entertainment, ACT’s A Christmas Carol is just the ticket.
A Christmas Carol
Through Dec 29
Tickets (starting at $34 for children, $39 for adults) are available online.