Review of A Christmas Carol at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

    The pleasures of a staging of A Christmas Carol include hearing actors say familiar lines and watching often-imagined scenes come to life.

    Pleasures of the familiar are much in evidence in the fine production of A Christmas Carol, directed by Hana S. Sharif, at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. So are pleasures of the unfamiliar.

    The Rep is presenting Michael Wilson’s theatrical adaptation of the Dickens classic, in which the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge becomes a new man after a series of ghosts visit him on Christmas Eve.

    Wilson alters the story in several respects. The first is the way Scrooge’s deceased partner, Jacob Marley, is introduced. His face does not appear in a knocker, as in the book. Instead, Scrooge speaks of Marley after waking up from what was apparently an unsettling dream.

    Scrooge’s housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber, is with him when he awakens. In the book, Mrs. Dilber is a laundress who appears only in a scene conjured by the ghost of Christmas Future. Wilson expands the part of Mrs. Dilber into a cross-dressing character reminiscent of British pantomime. She is a crowd-pleaser in Michael James Reed’s performance.

    In one of many instances of doubling, Reed plays Marley’s ghost, the first one to appear to Scrooge. In the book, Marley is weighted down by a chain he forged in life. Wilson’s Marley also wears a chain, but it does not prevent him from making a much more spectacular entrance than he does in the book. He is accompanied by several other ghosts who add eeriness to this and other scenes in impassioned choreography by Kirven Douthit-Boyd.

    Wilson’s most consequential additions are three vendors from whom Scrooge tries to collect the money they owe him. The admirable performers in these roles also play the three Christmas spirits who visit Scrooge. Laakan McHardy is a doll seller and Christmas Past. Paul Aguirre is a refreshments purveyor and Christmas Present. Eric Dean White is a watchmaker and Christmas Future. The Rep makes Dean glide exactly the way the book says he should.

    Is this part doubling a sign that Scrooge’s ghostly visitations are dreams based on what happened to him the day before? There is no way to know for sure, but Wilson enriches the play by raising this possibility.

    Guiesseppe Jones encompasses the full range of Scrooge’s emotions during his journey to redemption. Armando McClain and Michelle Hand are the best of parents as the Cratchets. J Samuel Davis and Carmen Garcia are charmers as the Fezziwigs. Alegra Batara and Raffeal Sears shine as two different couples: Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, and his wife; and Young Scrooge and his sweetheart, Belle. Melissa Harlow is a solicitor and a party guest.

    The ghost dancers include Nathan Keen, DeAnté Bryant, Jaalam Dishon, Josh Hoon Lee, Sydney Leiser, Bianca Sanborn, and Jenna Steinberg.

    The production is a holiday feast of theatricality thanks to Tre’von Griffith’s music direction, Tim Mackabee’s scenic design, Dede Ayite’s costumes, Seth Reiser’s lighting, Hana S. Kim’s projections, Adi Cabral’s dialect coaching, and Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes’s music and sound design.

    The parts for young people are played by two youth ensembles from COCA, directed by Jennifer Wintzer. I don’t know which team I saw, but it was splendid. I’m sure the other one is, too. The members of the two teams and their roles are:

    Youth Ensemble • Blue

    • Riley Carter Adams – Belinda, Past Attendant, Urchin
    • Fiona Bell – Schoolboy 1, Spoiled Child, Party Guest, Urchin, Fred’s Daughter
    • Sarah Brown – Martha
    • Blythe Funke – Wendy Fezziwig, Schoolboy 2, Urchin
    • Jackson Little – Ignorance, Cider Kid
    • Jada Little – Urchin, Past Attendant
    • Gavin Nobbe – Peter, Schoolboy 3, Urchin
    • Georgia Reynolds – Tiny Tim, Past Attendant
    • Imi Schneider – Want, Past Attendant, Cider Kid
    • Christian (CJ) Varner, Jr. – Teen Scrooge, Urchin
    • Christopher Varner – Turkey Boy, Boy Scrooge, Fred’s Son
    • Laila Varner – Fan, Urchin, Ghost Fan

    Youth Ensemble • Green

    • Rose Burnett – Ignorance, Cider Kid
    • Caroline Campbell – Fan, Urchin, Ghost Fan
    • Parker Collier – Teen Scrooge, Urchin
    • Brynn Meyer – Wendy Fezziwig, Schoolboy 2, Urchin, Fred’s Daughter
    • Vincent Emmanuel Meyer – Turkey Boy, Boy Scrooge, Fred’s Son
    • Rian Amirikal Page – Tiny Tim, Past Attendant
    • Arden Renee Powell – Want, Cider Kid, Past Attendant
    • Jarod Rhodes – Peter, Schoolboy 3, Urchin
    • Laila Williams – Urchin, Past Attendant
    • Lena Williams – Belinda, Past Attendant, Urchin
    • Devynn Yakel – Schoolboy 1, Spoiled Child, Party Guest, Urchin

    Wilson considerably alters the action that follows Scrooge’s awakening on Christmas Day. The effect is to gather all the characters in one place for a joyous finale. This ending is surely the right one for a play.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Jon Gitchoff