By Daniel Skora
You’ve got to be good to last 36 years, and Meadow Brook’s production of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol”, currently celebrating its 36th season, is better than good. It’s a great show, an audience pleaser filled with memorable scenes and superb production values, and the perfect complement to anyone’s holiday season celebration.
Except for a couple of years a few decades ago when the powers-that-were decided to tamper with a winner, the show has relied on an adaptation written and originally staged by actor, director, and writer Charles Nolte. Nolte’s adaptation is faithful to Dickens’ story and uses a considerable amount of dialogue taken directly from the text. Combined with Meadow Brook’s exceptional staging and you have a show that has audiences returning year after year.
This reviewer and his family have made the production a holiday tradition for the past two dozen years. Even now, after the kids have grown, it wouldn’t be a Merry Christmas without going “Carol”ing at Meadow Brook.
Thom Mahard is the show’s anchor, recording 32 years with the production, 10 of those as Ebenezer Scrooge. Mahard has the lean and hungry look of a text-book Scrooge, a man obsessed with money who likes his gruel not because it tastes good, but because it’s cheap. Others having spent a considerable amount of years in the cast include Sara Catheryn Wolf, Tobin Hissong, Jean Lyle Lepard, and Mark Rademacher. Long on acting resumes but just beginning to tally “Carol” appearances are Phil Powers and Stefanie Nichols. New to the “Carol” cast but no stranger to local theatres is Peter Prouty, who does a splendid job as Belle’s husband and several ensemble parts. Alternating in the role of Tiny Tim are Ari Bigelman and Ethan Sharp.
“Carol’s” dialogue is infectious, and if you’ve the show several times or more, much of it becomes imprinted on your memory. Lines like these drawn directly from Dickens’ novella not only speak to his writing skills, but translate well into dialogue: “You’ll keep your Christmas by losing your situation”, and “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato”, and this one “Are these the shadows of things that will be, or are they the shadows of things that may be, only”.
But no show is ever the same, and from year to year changes do occur in the performances. This year, one of the small but not insignificant differences happens after the Cratchits have finished their Christmas meal with their family. In a moment of tender affection, realizing that though their life has been a struggle what with raising a family on Bob’s meager salary and having to contend with Tiny Tim’s physical condition, they still have each other, and express that devotion by kissing.
This year’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is directed by Terry W. Carpenter, who’s served 27 years as stage manager, 14 of those also directing. Scenic design is by Peter W. Hicks, and Meadow Brook’s two story set on their oversize revolving turntable recreates not only the interior of Scrooge’s counting house with living quarters above, but the exterior of the building and the surrounding London streets. Lighting design is by Reid G. Johnson, sound by Michael Duncan. Mary Pettinato has 17 “Carols” under her belt, 11 as costume designer. Original choreography is by Jan Puffer, dance mistress for the show is Ann Acheson. Choral director (carols are sung a half hour before each performance) is CT Hollis. Sarah Linn Warren serves as assistant stage manager.
Meadow Brook offers numerous date and time opportunities to see “A Christmas Carol” between now and when the show concludes its run on December 24th. Tickets are available by calling the Meadow Brook box office at 1.248.377.3300 or going online at www.ticketmaster.com. Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in the city of Rochester.