Do you watch “A Christmas Carol” every year? Sometimes, it feels good to return to the things we know best.
An annual tradition locally, as well, “A Christmas Carol” had its 20th annual premier at Open Stage this past Saturday, adapted by Rachel and Stuart Landon from the Charles Dickens story, and it is a compelling reimagining of the classic story. It revisits the traditional characters and events, yet sprinkles in some differences to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Several surprising elements keep everyone intrigued—even those who know the story inside and out. And, if you aren’t as familiar, this holiday season is the perfect time to experience it.
On Saturday, several young cast members (The OSHkids Performance Co.) joined us in the lobby and began singing Christmas carols in their tweed caps, plaid scarves and oxfords. Once finished, they led us to the stage, which was cloaked in a light fog. We heard low rumbling sounds, reminiscent of an old London port by the Thames. We walked right past Tiny Tim and the Cratchits, and one performer asked an audience member if they’d like to buy an apple. The interaction invited us to not only witness the scene, but join it.
Suddenly, a large door burst open to reveal a woman (Terri Mastrobuono) shaking a tambourine along with her acting troupe. The actors wore masks with puffy cheeks and big noses to entertain the crowd and poke fun at the nefarious town grump, Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge.
However, the spectacle is broken up by rain, and the play shifts indoors to where we find Scrooge himself (played by Nicholas Hughes) lying in his bed. His caretaker (Patty Cole) enters, crooning a funny, off-key rendition of “Silent Night.” We soon learn that Scrooge’s business partner, Marley, died seven years ago on this very night (Christmas Eve).
Hughes, as Scrooge, wears sideburns, and the corners of his mouth sag as he speaks. He spits the word “pudding” and shoos off young carolers with a fireplace poker. While he occasionally squints his eyes and raises his bushy white brows, he remains quite expressionless otherwise. He intimidates the street solicitors who owe him money, and they tremble in his presence.
When the fog rolls in, Scrooge returns to the comfort of his own bed but is greeted there by the ghost of Marley. Covered in chains and dressed from head to toe in macabre silver hues, Marley has wispy hair, ragged robes and looks as if he has returned from the depths of a shipwreck. He warns that Scrooge will be visited by three ghosts: Past, Present and Future.
Scrooge wakes to a rather terrifying Christmas morning, which was executed very well onstage. There are disorienting flashes of greenish-blue light while masked performers pop up around his bed. The bed, impressively, begins to spin and move on its own to the side of the stage to make way for the ghosts.
Thanks to brilliant sound effects, the Ghosts of Christmas Past (also played by Mastrobuono) and Present (Karen Ruch) speak in normal voices interlaced with otherworldly male undertones and sinister echoes.
Scrooge leaves the safety of his bed and blankets to stand in the center of the stage and face the third Ghost of his Future. Here, we see Scrooge at his loneliest and most vulnerable. Though I won’t spoil what he looks like, this final ghost has a threatening presence standing in the shadows and looming behind Scrooge’s shoulders.
Open Stage’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” is engaging throughout and features endearing cast performances in its finale. From moody to joyful to downright cantankerous, Hughes’s portrayal of Scrooge is not to be missed. Friends and family of all ages are sure to enjoy it.
“A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 29 at Open Stage, 25 N. Court St., Harrisburg. For more information and tickets, call 717-232-6736 or visit www.openstagehbg.com.