Bringing a smile to ol' Scrooge
Ford's 'Christmas Carol' soars with lavish sets and tricks
By Nelson Pressley
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Ford's Theatre reopened earlier this year after an 18-month, $50 million renovation, and now its annual cornerstone show, "A Christmas Carol," has been overhauled, too. The production feels fresh and looks lavish, thanks to Lee Savage's soaring ironwork set, a steam-driven motorcar that chugs across the stage, and a few high-tech tricks that the various ghosts of Christmas have up their collective sleeve.
Yet the outside of that sleeve is all holiday heart, for Michael Baron's staging is musically high-spirited (the Fezziwigs' great Christmas party turns into a full-blown production number) and acted with care. Baron takes the show seriously, and the result is as full-bodied a "Christmas Carol" as Ford's has offered in some time.
It starts with a happy hubbub as actors in Victorian costumes mingle with the audience, offering broad English accents as they sprinkle "Hallo" and "Merry Christmas" through the crowd. Then a heavy bell tolls, rows of lights go out one by one, and a spooky mood takes over as Ebenezer Scrooge learns the hard way what Christmas is all about.
Snippets of carols sung by jovial Londoners keep the mood light and the pacing brisk, creating a fine counterpoint for the controlled fury of Ed Gero's fearsome Scrooge. Gero has frequently played the heavy in classical productions with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and he brings an impressive gravitas to the role of this legendary skinflint. But he also has fun: There's pleasure to be had in being haunted, and Gero's wide eyes and sudden starts cannily draw the audience in to Dickens's melodrama.
Of course, the occasional stunts don't hurt when it comes to giving the crowd a wee thrill or two. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Felicia Curry) floats gracefully over the stage, and it won't give away too much to say that Scrooge believes his long-dead colleague Jacob Marley (Drew Eshelman) is a genuine phantom only after Marley pulls off a special effect that budget-strapped theaters just can't try.
A long intermission gives the audience time to browse through the Lincoln museum downstairs, yet the show still clocks in at a clean two hours. Not that it's rushed: This Scrooge evolves in good time (his change has seemed crushingly hurried and false in years past), and the plucky Cratchits still linger in their moods while cursing Scrooge and cooing over Tiny Tim.
The Cratchits are amiably played by Christopher Bloch and Amy McWilliams, understated standouts in a large cast that hit their many marks on time without making the enterprise feel mechanical. It's a big "Christmas Carol," but in the right way: a little flashy, respectfully solemn and infectiously jolly.
"A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas" by Charles Dickens, adapted by Michael Wilson. Directed by Michael Baron. Costumes, Alejo Vietti; lights, Rui Rita; original music and sound design, Josh Schmidt; choreography, Shea Sullivan. With Michael Bunce, Steven Carpenter, Nick DePinto, Erin Driscoll, Eleasha Gamble, Michael A. Pizzi, Stephen F. Schmidt, Margo Seibert, Judy Simmons, Anne Stone, Bronwyn van Joolen, Jacob Yeh, Garrett O'Donnell, Jordi Parry, Jaira Noelani Byrams, Alison Cenname, Jacob Land, Adam LeKang, Colin Cech, Marley McKay, Brittany O'Grady, Virginia Tucker, Katja Volker, and Jaden Burnett. About two hours.