‘A Christmas Carol’ at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

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A Good Old Baltimore Christmas Carol

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC) brings great joy to the holiday season with an original adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar (who also directs) has crafted a new spin on the classic tale – rather than setting it in 1843 London, it takes place in 1843 Baltimore. The story is all the same; at its heart, A Christmas Carol is a timeless tale of “redemption” – as explained by Gallanar in his director’s notes. As far as the essence of the tale, Gallanar hits it right on the head.

Greg Burgess as Scrooge. Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography, LLC.
Greg Burgess (Scrooge). Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography, LLC.

Seeing as A Christmas Carol is so well-known, there is no need to discuss the plot in great detail. All of the traditional elements are there, and much of the language is pulled right from Dickens’ text. There is always the temptation to bring a new spin to a classic tale such as this; while Gallanar’s choice to set the play in Baltimore did not mar the production, it does not appear to add much to it. Often it feels as if it goes out of its way to reference Baltimore, and those moments seem a bit forced. There’s also something missing in not hearing our players speak Cockney.

CSC’s design team once again brings a charming edge to the evening. As Technical Director, as well as Scenic and Lighting Designer, Daniel O’Brien vividly creates the world of Ebeneezer Scrooge through his designs. A Christmas Carol has afforded him the ability to actually build sets, which is a joy to see in this space. While many CSC productions rely more on stark staging, and focus more on language, O’Brien successfully makes the scenic elements delightful. Clad in traditional garb by Costume Designer Kristina Lambdin, the cast looks great. Some highlights are the Ghost of Christmas Past (whose outfit lights up!) and the Ghost of Christmas Present, who looks like he’s having the most fun (as he should!)

One of my favorite things about CSC is their wonderful use of music, and A Christmas Carol is no exception. Musical Director Scott Farquhar has selected a rich array of Christmas tunes – both from the Victorian era and beyond – and they are an outstanding feature of this production. Led by Nicholas Delaney, the entire cast does a great job with the music. A personal favorite was their take on Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” which occurs during intermission – so don’t miss it!

Tim Bintrim( Fezziwig). Photo by Teresa Castracane. Photography, LLC
Tim Bintrim (Fezziwig). Photo by Teresa Castracane. Photography, LLC.

The casting for A Christmas Carol is exquisite. In the iconic role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, Gregory Burgess is a delight. He is effectively grumbly, and also transitions wonderfully to the reformed, joyful Scrooge. While there is so much to enjoy around him, he is a fine anchor. Plus, it’s hilarious to hear him squeal when he is visited by the spirits. Michael P. Sullivan is a fine Bob Cratchit. Sullivan is heartwarming and honest in a role that can easily be lost amidst the world of this tale. As Scrooge’s nephew Fred, James Jager gives a wonderful performance full of joy and mirth. He particularly stands out in the scene where Fred meets his newly joyous uncle. Also, Tim R. Bintrim is the most jovial and delightful Fezziwig I’ve ever seen!

While the entire cast does well in their portrayals – including a charming group of children – there were plenty of moments where the language got away from them. Gallanar has crafted the evening so that many of the major characters each narrate part of the story, which does enhance this production. While CSC is a company that has shown exemplary work with Shakespearean text, the more relatable Dickensian text proved to be a challenge at times. Here’s hope that can likely be attributed to opening night jitters, and will no doubt improve.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s A Christmas Carol is a delightful evening. Do yourself a favor and bring the whole family to see their take on it. There is much to enjoy!

Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

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A Christmas Carol plays through December 23, 2014, at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company – 7 South Calvert Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 244-8570, or purchase them online.