Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, December, 2007

But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas Time…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

– Charles Dickens

I went to see and review the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s production of A Christmas Carol for a second year in a row to see what had changed and what had remained the same. The BTF has announced this as a new holiday tradition in the making, so I needed to learn whether their tradition was to present a different production of A Christmas Carol every December, or to develop one that stayed essentially the same. As I had suspected, the latter is the case.

Because this year’s production looks and feels very much like last year’s, including many of the same actors in the same roles, I am going to refer you to my 2006 review for several reasons, most important of which is that I, personally, can’t stand A Christmas Carol but last year the novelty of this fine production caught me up and allowed me to enjoy and even feel enthusiasm for a story that usually sends me screaming. This year I was ready to bludgeon Tiny Tim with his crutch again, which is no reflection on the repeat performance of 5th grader Nate Stump, but of my own personal tastes.

If you like A Christmas Carol, and millions of people do, this adaptation by Eric Hill, starring Hill as Scrooge, and directed by Hill and E. Gray Simons III, is an excellent one, dare I even say a definitive one, and everything I liked about it last year I was right to like.

One thing I didn’t like about it last year – an unfortunate false nose that Hill chose to wear – was blessedly gone. And one thing I loved about it last year – the talented violinist Naya Chang performing the score live – was gone too. Twelve year old Jahna Stanton was the violinist this year, and she performed admirably for her tender years, but without Chang’s unique spark and the confidence that comes with age and experience.

Unless I am greatly mistaken the score/sound design had been beefed up with more Christmas carols to compensate for the loss of some of the violin scoring. I missed Chang but if you had never seen her you wouldn’t miss her at all. The show still sounds just great – I love the violin bits when Scrooge is being flummoxed by his bedside candle and Jahna Stanton (I refer to her by both names because three of her siblings – Rider, Cooper, and Tyler – also appear in this production) played them beautifully – and a lovely duet on “Silent Night” performed by 6th graders Charlotte Sands-Berking and Victoria Flower was the highlight of this year’s music.

Many of the actors are Hill’s graduate students in the theater department at Brandeis University, and BTF interns and artists-in-residence, and I was pleased to see so many of them return to the BTF to participate in this production again. They are attractive and talented young men and women, and they bring a much needed diversity to the casting.

Carl Sprague’s wonderful set, with its miniature gray London skyline, has returned, as have Jessica Risser-Milne’s costumes, Matthew E. Adelson’s lighting design, and J Hagenbuckle’s fine sound design. Risser-Milne has had to reimagine the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and has turned him (her?) into a silent giant with skeletal hands. Apparently Travis G. Daly, who inhabits the costume, has stilt-walking skills.

Twelve young people from the Berkshire region appear in the production, and do a very professional job. Joining the four Stantons, Flower, Sands-Berking, and Stump, are John Freylinghuysen, Maizy Scarpa (Martha Cratcit), Hallie Novak (Belle’s Daughter/Want), Joshua Lilienthal (Younger Scrooge), and Helen Crescentini (Dorit Crachit). Johnny Segalla, who has graduated from Monument Mountain Regional High School and started at Berkshire Community College since last year’s production, appears as Dick Wilkins.

I am pleased to see that this year the BTF is running A Christmas Carol through December 30. Christmas is a season, not a day, and to allow locals and visitors to continue to celebrate it through half of the Twelve Days is appropriate and accommodating.

A Christmas Carol runs through December 30 on the Unicorn Stage at the Berkshire Theatre Festival (413-298-5536) between Rts. 7 & 102 in Stockbridge. The show runs 90 minutes with one intermission. I know people love to take children to this show, but please remember that it is essentially a ghost story and may be scary for little ones.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2007

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