Reviewed by Jessica Neu
After the theater went dark for over a year due to the perils of the Covid-19 pandemic, the spirit and message of Charles Dicken’s classic, A Christmas Carol, felt especially poignant.
Ebenezer Scrooge, his colleagues, the Cratchet family, and ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future return to tell the tale of Scrooge, a man who whose initial disdain for Christmas is a dark as coal but learns to find joy in life after being forced to reexamine his life’s choices. As the CLO was able to resume its annual production of the beloved holiday tale last night at the Byham Theater, moments of laughter, reflection, love, and revelation all resonated a bit more this year as the audience, together again, celebrated not only the joy of the season but of also community and togetherness.
With a run time of 2 hours, including intermission, the show, which runs through December 23rd and celebrates its 30th season, is long enough to entertain adults and an appropriate length to keep children of all ages enthralled. Set changes were minimal but tasteful as actors used every area of the stage and the aisles to transition between the various ventures of Ebenezer Scrooge’s life. Director Scott Evans does a beautiful job of maintaining the show’s historical dignity while interweaving special effects to give the production a modern feel. In addition, the multicultural cast was a beautiful reframing of representation, further bringing 1800s England into 2021 America.
Richard Thomas‘ portrayal of Scrooge kept audience members captivated despite likely knowing the outcome of his story. His initial disdain for Christmas was palpable and emotional. Nonverbal reactions to reliving Christmas’ past and what he realized were scrupulous decisions projected with angst and honesty. This dynamic portrayal made his jubilation at the end of the production appear genuine and truly revelatory.
In addition to Thomas, Pittsburgh native, and veteran actor Tim Hartman, continued his tenure as part of the theatrical tradition. Returning as Fezziwig and the Ghost of Christmas Present, Charity Worker and a Businessman. Hartman’s strong stage presence and superb character acting bring depth and nuance to each scene. Never breaking character, he even commented, “you can wake up now; it’s almost over,” to a sleepy child as he walked through the audience for his final entrance; a spontaneous moment that spoke to the show’s theme of attending to mankind.
Complete with an all-new, locally crafted set that situates the characters beautifully while still symbolizing remnants of past decisions and live music from a delightful pit orchestra, audiences are sure to revel in the beloved Christmas tale. Although not a conventional musical in that each scene is punctuated by a full musical number, there are Christmas carols sprinkled throughout the show that help drive the plot and enchant viewers.
The CLO once again provides a joyous opportunity to delight in the dynamic telling of a classic tale and remind us of the true meaning of Christmas and the importance of “mankind being our business” year-round. May our hearts be filled with grace now and into the New Year, and as Tiny Tim (Emmett Kent) gleefully declares, “God bless us, everyone.”
For more info and tickets visit: https://www.pittsburghclo.org/shows/a-musical-christmas-carol