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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Bill Raymond as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Hartford Stage Company's production of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story of Christmas." Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Beloved HSC "A Christmas Carol- A Ghost Story of Christmas" continues to enchant
by Kory Loucks

HARTFORD - Long before the Occupy Wall Street movement, Charles Dickens pointed out the evils of greed and the joys of redemption and giving, which has been adapted to the annual reminder of the importance of charity and goodwill in "A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas."
Nothing much has changed in this classic, enchanting play at the Hartford Stage Company, originally adapted by former Artistic Director Michael Wilson that still makes me tear up after all these years.
Director Maxwell Williams did well not to mess with a good thing, while keeping the production moving along at a good clip.
Now celebrating its 14th year, part of the fun for us regulars is to see the old familiar faces and meet the new additions to the cast.
Bill Raymond is back again playing Ebenezer Scrooge with just the right amount of curmudgeonly stinginess and down right meanness to make his transformation believable.
There was a time when he was too sweet and silly from the start, making his performance flat, but his interpretation is spot-on these days.
"Aren’t there workhouses, aren’t there prisons?" Scrooge callously asks when people come looking for charity from him.
The other actors, including regulars Robert Hannon Davis as the long-suffering employee Bob Cratchet, and his much put upon wife, played by Rebecka Jones are touching, as usual.
Johanna Morrison is magnanimous and graceful as doll vendor Bettye Pidgeon and the Spirit of Christmas Past, and Alan Rust is hearty and cheerful as Bert, the fruit and cider vendor as well as the Spirit of Christmas Present.
Rust is also comical as always as fussy Mr. Fuzziwig, with his silly wife played by Jones.
Michael Bakkensen continues to be generous and kind as Fred, Scrooge’s loving and forbearing nephew.
Michael Preston is inquisitive and sweet as the watchworks vendor, Mr. Marvel.
As delightful as this morality tale is to see again and again, it’s even more fun to watch it through the eyes of children in the audience.
Bear in mind that the numerous ghosts, including Scrooges’ old business partner, Jacob Marley, played by Noble Shropshire, are really scary, with horrible white faces, bloody axes, jangling chains, and loud, frightening lightning and gothic music by John Gromada.
I wouldn’t recommend this show for children younger than 5 years old. Best to go online to the Hartford Stage Company’s website and play the abbreviated video of the show to test the waters before bringing a little one along.
My niece, Lindsay Hillemeir, 5, of Farmington enjoyed the Saturday matinee performance immensely and recommended it to other children, but she had seen the video beforehand and was well prepared for the spooky ghosts. When the scary parts where happening, she quickly covered her eyes.
"It was awesome," she said afterwards, observing, "It’s scary, but not too scary."
They really poured on the artificial snow this year, a little too much at times, with some people in the audience getting drenched with fake flakes.
The fog is also intense this year, with so much of it on stage at times that the actors completely disappeared from view - an effect that I don’t think was intended.
Here’s to many years ahead for this blessed production of annual cheer "A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story" with its reminder that it really is much better to give than to receive.
As angelic little Tiny Tim so eloquently says, "God bless us, every one."

Four Stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Story by Charles Dickens. Adapted by Michael Wilson. Directed by Maxwell Williams. Set design by Tony Straiges. Choreography by Hope Clarke. Costume design by Zack Brown. Lighting design by Robert Wierzel. Original music and sound design by John Gromada.
Running time: 1 ¾ hours, plus a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. There are no evening performances on Dec. 24 and Dec. 28, and no performances on Dec. 25; matinees are Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2 p.m. with additional performances from Dec. 26 through Dec. 30.
Tickets: $24 - $69. Children 12 and under save $10. Call 860-527-5151 or visit their website at
Bill Raymond - Ebenezer Scrooge
Noble Shropshire - Jacob Marley, Mrs. Dilber
Robert Hannon Davis - Bob Cratchit, Jacob Marley, Mrs. Dilber
Michael Bakkensen - Fred, Scrooge at 30
Alan Rust - Spirit of Christmas Present, Bert, Mr. Fuzziwig
Johanna Morrison - Spirit of Christmas Past, Bettye Pidgeon, Old Jo
Michael Preston - Mr. Marvel
Rebecka Jones - Mrs. Fezziwig, Mrs. Cratchit
Curtis Billings - First Solicitor, Undertaker
Gustave Johnson - Second Solicitor, Ebenezer Scrooge
Michelle Hendrick - Belle, Fred’s wife
Salvatore Zullo - Scrooge at 15
Lorenzo Dalton or Ethan Pancoast - Tim Cratchit

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