Theater Review: A Christmas Carol

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Studio Tenn presents:
A Christmas Carol (Dec. 6 – 16; Ages 6 and older)
The Franklin Theatre
419 Main St., Franklin
538-2076 • studiotenn.com
Show times: Thu – Fri 7 p.m., Sat – Sun 2 and 7 p.m., with additional performances Monday, Dec. 10 and Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $47.50 – $57.50

Merrier than the biggest holiday turkey hanging in the poultry shop window is Studio Tenn’s newly re-imagined production of A Christmas Carol.

Based on Charles Dickens’ beloved seasonal story, Paula Y. Flautt’s masterful stage adaptation and Artistic Director Matt Logan’s fresh approach to this timeless tale results in an impeccable night of theater — the best version of A Christmas Carol I’ve seen from any company and Studio Tenn’s overall best offering to date.

If you’ve seen Studio Tenn’s past two seasons of A Christmas Carol, you are in for an even bigger treat this year as the show is all new. Logan’s set design, as always, enhances the overall production without distracting from the unfolding drama. The inclusion of a giant rotating turntable center stage is brilliant and adds a mysterious dynamic. Logan’s costume design is stunning and intricate, mixing traditional Victorian elements with contemporary touches.  Also, image projections on a backdrop screen along with skillful lighting and fog effects help create the perfect atmosphere for this haunting tale.

The live orchestra’s underscoring, directed by Nathan Burbank, succinctly supports and enhances the drama on stage.

There are not enough kudos to praise the outstanding cast of 18, who all (except Herbie Horrocks as Tiny Tim) play multiple roles as narrators and various characters. The show begins in Christmas 2012 with the cast of contemporary folks beginning the story and taking the audience back to the 19th century to see how it all plays out.

Chip Arnold reprises his role as Ebenezer Scrooge, and this performance from him is the greatest he’s done. This is a character he was designed to portray. Arnold seamlessly delivers every emotion Scrooge evolves through, from the mean, crotchety miser to the fearful soul who mourns his past to a man who finds redemption and turns over a new leaf.

Madeleine Hall as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

The casting of a child as the Ghost of Christmas Past is an interesting spin, and young Madeleine Hall is a pure delight. What’s interesting about this casting is the visual of a ghostly child taking Scrooge back in time to his own childhood. This was a splendid move on Logan’s part, because it’s a powerful sequence with just enough eeriness.

Matthew Carlton’s portrayal of Jacob Marley is right on mark as he seemingly glides around the stage shackled in chains warning Scrooge to change his ways or suffer the consequences. Likewise, Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva gives a perfectly powerful performance as the Ghost of Christmas Present, infusing appropriate attitude to make Scrooge realize how one’s actions — or lack thereof — can result in unpleasant circumstances.

Eric D. Pasto-Crosby is deft as Bob Cratchit. Like Arnold, Pasto-Crosby rides a roller coaster of emotions with his character and convincingly does so.

Bridget Berger’s role as the Ghost of Christmas Future perfectly exemplifies the necessity of an actor with a strong stage presence. Berger’s ghost is the most haunting. One assumes by her incredible wardrobe that she is a futuristic witch of sorts, and her lack of dialogue demands a powerful visual existence. Berger does this well as her only mode of communication with Scrooge is the banging of her cane and pointing to things he must see.

There are many holiday shows on stages all across the region this month, and Studio Tenn’s remarkable offering of A Christmas Carol should be at the top of your family’s must-see list during the season.

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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