In the quarter of a century that the Great Lakes Theater Festival has presented “A Christmas Carol,” there have been changes. Probably every costume and set piece has been rebuilt, and certainly the cast has changed. Yet, the spine of the show, adapted and first directed by Gerald Freedman, has remained constant. His direction has been preserved, as has the original set design and the seasonal music it contains.
That the production is a true representation of Dickens’ classic is a second reason for its longevity. It has a frame of the Cleaveland family gathering on Christmas Eve to enjoy a reading of Dickens’ story and taking parts in it. Grumpy butler Samuels becomes Scrooge, father becomes Bob Cratchit and so on.
Great Lakes Theater regular Aled Davies has grown wonderfully and comfortably in the role of Scrooge. Each year, he finds some new line interpretations as the script unfolds itself. His transformation into “friendly Scrooge” remains a magical moment on stage.
New this year is Patrick Kiernan as the Ghost of Christmas Past. In his odd space-age costume, he guides us through the backstory of Scrooge’s sad childhood when money became more important to him than people. Laura Welsh Berg, with her glorious voice, narrates the first part of the story and makes transitions between scenes as the Cleaveland mother, even appearing as Belle, Scrooge’s love interest who does not have a dowry.
David Anthony Smith is especially boisterous this year as the Ghost of Christmas Present. He presents some of the darker elements of the story. The miners, the sailors and the children who represent want and ignorance are reminders that not everyone has a traditional holiday meal and celebration.
There’s so much that everyone, especially children, can enjoy in this production. Starting with the dark and shadowy blue bedroom of Scrooge, some youngsters were scared to tears when the chained ghost of Marley stomped into the room. Kudos to Lynn Robert Berg in this role. Another amazing moment is set against a background of thunder as the stage apparently splits in two, revealing the tall, imposing figure of the Ghost of Christmas Present. Need I say that the show’s finale pulls out all of the sweetness and emotional stops that are needed to bring a tear to just about everyone as the members of the cast “Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
More than a consistent cash cow for Great Lakes Theater, “A Christmas Carol” is an icon of theater in Cleveland. It’s been around long enough that youngsters who were introduced to theater 25 years ago may well be taking their own children to the Ohio Theatre for an initiation into the art. What an impressive tradition of art that endures – and remains fresh with each performance. “A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 22 at Ohio Theatre.