By Daniel Skora
This is, perhaps, as much a testament as it is a review. I rarely inject the first person pronoun when writing about a show. But Meadow Brook Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” has always been special and I find it impossible to separate my enthusiasm for the show from its mechanics. This is the 34th continuous year that MBT has performed their stage version of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas story. That in itself should be enough to vouch for the exceptional entertainment value it provides.
My family and I have been going to the show for 24 of those 34 years. My son was six when we first attended, my daughter four. I have watched as their initial wide-eyed amazement grew, over the years, into an appreciation for the show’s themes of social, moral, and personal responsibility. “A Christmas Carol” has become an annual tradition, a prelude to Christmas and the holiday season. As kids, as teenagers, as young adults, as whatever you become when you reach your 30’s, they have not only wanted to see it again, but have looked forward to doing so weeks in advance. My wife and I have been right there along with them.
What makes us keep returning? Well, the same thing that keeps other families coming back year after year to fill up the theatre’s 584 seats for the 60 or so performances put on each year. This is one great show, Christmas themed or not.
Over the years, Meadow Brook has honed their production to perfection. The show is anchored by actor and director Charles Nolte’s original staging. Nolte’s adaptation remains faithful to Dickens’ tale and his staging highlights the story’s visual elements.
For “Carol”, Meadow Brook’s stage becomes a veritable slice of an Old London street. It’s dominated by a two-story structure which sits on a revolving turntable. One side of the structure replicates the exterior of a typical building of the time. The window of Scrooge’s apartment at the top opens up to the street below. The other side has the interior of Scrooge’s counting house on the lower level, the interior of his living quarters above. Various auxiliary sets reveal the hearthside of Bob Cratchit’s home, Fezziwig’s place of business, and the parlor of Scrooge’s nephew Fred. To see a time-lapsed video taken a few years back of the main structure being assembled, click HERE.
None of the spectacle of Dickens’ novella is lost in MBT’s production. There are grand entrances and exits. Jacob Marley’s ghost and the three spirits who come to visit Scrooge enter from trap doors or swirling clouds of mist. Marley’s ghost exits with a loud, blinding flash of pyrotechnics. From the viands that decorate Fezziwig’s holiday feast, to the vast array of exotic foods that cause even the Spirit of Christmas Present to swoon, this is one delicious production. The costumes are bright and colorful and look like they might have arrived at the theatre in trunks delivered via time machine from 19th century England.
Meadow Brook’s cast is no revolving door, and the majority of main characters have been appearing in the show for years. Tom Mahard is in his seventh year as Scrooge and has appeared through the years in over a thousand “Carol” productions in various roles. Judy Dery is back for her fifteenth season as Mrs. Fezziwig as is Sara Catheryn Wolf in the role of Spirit of Christmas Past. Others returnees include Jean Lyle Lepard as Mrs. Cratchit and Tobin Hissong as Bob Cratchit.
The current production is directed by Terry W. Carpenter with set design by Peter W. Hicks and lighting by Reid G. Johnson. Costumes are by Mary Pettinato. For those who keep coming back year after year, MBT’s “A Christmas Carol” is as magical as ever. For those who have never seen it, it’s a wonderful holiday tradition that you may want to start for yourself. Arrive at the theatre a half hour before the curtain goes up to enjoy the onstage carolers.
“A Christmas Carol” runs through December 24th. Tickets are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or going online at www.ticketmaster.com. Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester Michigan.