Review: It’s a Jolly Holiday with CLO’s ‘Musical Christmas Carol’

Michael Cerveris provides star power as Scrooge in 31st year of a Pittsburgh tradition

By Sharon Eberson

It’s that time of year when Nutcrackers and Christmas Carols abound, and in the Pittsburgh Cultural District, that means the G.O.A.T. of all misers, Ebenezer Scrooge, is being scared straight at the Byham Theater, courtesy of Pittsburgh CLO.

For 31 seasons, CLO has mounted the David H. Bell adaptation of A Musical Christmas Carol, brimming with bells and whistles – an impressionistic set, special effects, live music – and a series of marquee names as Scrooge.

The CLO holiday experience begins from the moment you enter the Byham.

Emmett Kent as Tiny Tim and Jerreme Rodriguez as Bob Cratchit in Pittsburgh CLO’s A Musical Christmas Carol at the Byham Theater. (Matt Polk)

Patrons cross the threshold to a Christmas tree-lined path – a holiday version of the Yellow Brick Road. The 77 trees represent CLO productions starting in 1946, leading the way to a towering tree in the main lobby and spreading good cheer before you reach your seat. 

A Musical Christmas Carol also is known for big-name actors in the role of Scrooge, working alongside a large cast of veteran actors and newcomers. 

It’s a show in which a two-time Tony-winner such as Michael Cerveris can carve out a few weeks in a busy schedule, swoop into Pittsburgh and play Ebenezer Scrooge as Dickens penned him in 1843: the inspiration for films from The Muppet Christmas Carol to Scrooged to this year’s Spirited, and the Victorian precursor to Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko. However, unlike Gekko’s endless need for greed, Scrooge is gifted with a giddy Christmas Day awakening. 

One of the pleasures of the show is Cerveris’ Scrooge going from the dark side to finding not just his Christmas spirit, but also his laugh, a gleeful moment for an actor known for award-winning roles as some of musical theater’s most troubled characters (Sweeney Todd, Assassins’ John Wilkes Booth and Fun Home’s Bruce Bechdel among them).

There’s a certain symmetry in Cerveris playing Scrooge in Pittsburgh, where he spent many childhood holidays visiting relatives. Edmund Lyndeck, CLO’s first Scrooge, originated the role of Judge Turpin in Broadway’s Sweeney Todd. In 2022, opposite Cerveris is CLO’s longtime chain-rattler Jacob Marley, Daniel Krell – the Post-Gazette Performer of the Year for his performance as Bruce in Front Porch Theatricals’ Fun Home. It’s the role that brought Cerveris his best actor in a musical Tony.

As Scrooge, Cerveris follows marquee names including Tom Atkins, Richard Thomas and Patrick Page. Exciting as it is to have these stars come to town and shine in the central role, it is local actors such as Krell who drive the engine that keeps this wild ride revved and ready to go.

The busy set bustles with clusters of carolers, among a cast of two dozen in period costumes, many playing multiple roles. The actors’ individual histories with the show are detailed here, where you’ll find a who’s who of Pittsburgh theater’s past, present and, perhaps, the future. 

Pittsburgh CLO’s Byham Theater lobby Christmas tree display, circa 2021.

Comedic characters long portrayed by cast members such as Tim Hartman and Terry Wickline are among the reasons A Musical Christmas Carol has become a family tradition for many Pittsburghers. 

Hartman (Mr. Fezziwig, Ghost of Christmas Present, etc.) and Wickline (Mrs. Fezziwig, Mrs. Dilber et. al) are smile magnets, no matter how many times you’ve seen the show.  

A Musical Christmas Carol also has a history of introducing newcomers, such as Carnegie Mellon alum and Hamilton star Renee Elise Goldsberry. Among the first-timers in the current production are CMU’s John Paul Berry (Class of 2025) as Young Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Kat Harkins, a recent Point Park University graduate, is in her third year as the playful Ghost of Christmas Past. 

Scrooge’s other ghostly visitor is Hartman, as the Ghost of Christmas Present – a deceptively jolly-looking giant among those who help Scrooge find his fate.

Among other familiar faces is Justin Fortunato, the producing artistic director of Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center, who is in his 10th year of charming Downtown audiences. He portrays Scrooge’s determined, good-natured nephew Fred, whole Saige Smith continues a busy year of seemingly endless local roles as Belle, the long-ago object of Young Scrooge’s affection.  

Jerreme Rodriguez and Lisa Ann Goldsmith inspire deep empathy as the heads of the Cratchit household, presiding over a brood of familiar and new faces. For sixth-grader Emmett Kent, this is his third year carried on fellow actors’ backs and shoulders as Tiny Tim, once again sweetly uttering the iconic line, “God bless us, everyone.”

A Musical Christmas Carol is at the Byham Theater December 9-23, 2022. Tickets: https://www.pittsburghclo.org/shows/a-musical-christmas-carol. There will be a sensory-friendly performance at 10 a.m. Saturday, December 17. Check pittsburghclo.org for ASL and sensor friendly performances.

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  1. What’s On Stage Pittsburgh for the week of December 19th, 2022 to the end of January, 2023

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