A Christmas Carol | The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Every year, I look forward to having my pessimistic tendencies washed away by experiencing this wondrous and uplifting story.

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The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis keeps its 50th anniversary rolling merrily along with its production of Charles Dickens’ holiday classic A Christmas Carol.  It seems every year some local company puts on this show, and every year, I look forward to having my pessimistic tendencies washed away by experiencing this wondrous and uplifting story.

Set in Victorian London, the story centers on a callous old man, Ebenezer Scrooge (John Rensenhouse). Scrooge is as frugal with kind words for his fellow townspeople as is he is with his money. Known as the local tightwad, Scrooge runs an accounting firm he started with his long-deceased partner, Jacob Marley (Joneal Joplin). He is so stingy, he even harasses his employee, Bob Crachit (Michael James Reed), about the number of coals he uses to warm the office. He’s a mean one that Mr. Scrooge.

As well-wishers and donation-seekers stop by to try to get Mr. Scrooge in the holiday spirit, they are all rebuffed by his icy demeanor and sharp tongue. Even Scrooge’s own nephew, Fred (Ben Nordstrom), who begs him to attend his holiday party, gets chased out of the building with cross words regarding Fred’s own wife.

As fate would intervene, Scrooge’s old partner, Marley returns from the grave to warn Scrooge that his actions will lead him down a path of doom. He tells him he will be visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve; the Ghost of Christmas Past (Jacqueline Thompson), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Jerry Vogel), and lastly the Ghost of Christmas Future (Landon Tate Boyle). Each of these apparitions will focus on the events that have caused Scrooge’s heart to harden and also give him the option to change his fate.

Being a man of a certain age, I can feel my own Scrooge-like crotchetiness starting to seep into my life. This may have been the first time I was actually sympathetic toward Scrooge. The man runs a business and when people can’t pay their bills they come crying to him. While most people see it as Scrooge just being mean by not allowing an extension on some loans, I see it as good business. Scrooge just wants to get paid. Regarding the myriad of holiday celebrations he snubs, I can’t get mad at him for that. There is nothing I like better than the company of my dogs and a glass of Fireball to make me happy. Scrooge just wants to be left to his own devices, and society wants to force him into their way of doing things. I can relate to Scrooge’s point of view in the first act—the man just wants to be alone. (Great, now I will probably have three ghosts in my future as well…)

David H. Bell’s adaptation is a darker look at the story than I have seen before. Past productions I have seen have been overly rosy and cheery, but this one takes a deeper look into the events that caused Scrooge to take his path. Unfeeling parents, a difficult marriage, and hard financial choices all played a part in making Ebenezer the miser he is today.

The entire ensemble cast of this production was breathtaking. Rensenhouse as Scrooge was every bit as cranky as the role required. His quick delivery of some rather scathing dialogue was a delight to watch. Kudos to Joplin for making his 100th appearance on The Rep’s stage—surely a theatrical milestone. Each of the three ghosts served spectral realness in each of their performances with a special nod going to Thompson for such an enchanting performance as the Ghost of Christmas Past. This whole cast deserves a massive round of applause for working as a stellar, cohesive unit.

While the cast was delightful, it was the technical side of the production that earned the highest marks. Director Steven Woolf gave the production a fresh take by keeping the action moving and maximizing the emotional high points.

Dorothy Marshall Englis’ wonderful costume creations, which were all made in The Rep’s own costume shop, came to life with every small detail glistening under Rob Denton’s wonderful lightning design. Ellen Isom delivered her usual brilliant movements during the deliciously intricate dance numbers.

Enough cannot be said about Robert Mark Morgan’s set design. This kind of achievement really is what makes up the stuff of theatrical dreams. The world he and his crew created for the actors to play in was exquisitely detailed and masterfully constructed. Seriously, St. Louis Theatre Circle, this man needs to be appreciated for his achievement in design.

Congratulations to On the FLY Productions for creating some intriguing flying sequences. They took this production to the next level by creating some attention-grabbing special effects.

With this production firing on all cylinders, it made my own “Bah Humbug!” attitude melt. The Rep’s level of high quality professional theatre is such a magical gift to St. Louis. Be sure to grab your entire family—yes, even cranky, old Grandpa—and treat yourselves to The Rep’s holiday gift, A Christmas Carol.Jim Ryan

A Christmas Carol plays on the Browning Mainstage at The Rep through December 24. Please visit www.repstl.org for show times and ticket prices. 

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