Stadium Theatre Brings a Warm and Wonderful Christmas Carol to Life in Woonsocket

Ah, A Christmas Carol … who doesn’t know and love this holiday chestnut from one of its many incarnations? Whether your favorite adaptation stars Michael Caine, Mr. Magoo or Patrick Stewart, we all happily revisit this age-old tale of that one fateful Christmas Eve when miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited upon by the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future. Dickens’ story highlights the divide between the very rich and the starving poor ­– woefully not unlike our invisible 99% population of today – with a heavy dose of the supernatural and a nice side of holiday melodies. For two hours (plus intermission), Shining Light Productions’ A Christmas Carol takes over the Stadium Theatre with a holiday flourish to regale us with the tale of how an evil money grubbing businessman is literally “scared straight” in the course of one very, very busy night.

The lovingly restored Stadium Theatre shows no sign of wear, despite being in its 90th year, and the holiday cheer is palpable from the moment you enter the lobby and hear the impressive strains of the Stadium’s 1926 Wurlitzer Organ. Armed with popcorn and snacks (yes, you can bring in your treats and yes, I highly recommend the popcorn) my two elementary-aged boys eagerly told me that they were hoping for snow, scary ghosts, time travel and “that flying dead guy.” While maybe not the most eloquent description of the play, this wonderful – and hopefully soon to be annual production – provided all of the above and more.

Tackling the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, seasoned actor Jason Denton is in fine form, giving us a deeply flawed man driven by greed and carrying with him a strong aversion to seemingly all of humankind. Denton is wonderful in the role, with a lovely, well-rounded speaking voice and a commanding stage presence.

We see immediately that Scrooge’s unpleasant attitude is not just reserved for his meek employee Bob Cratchit (played by a warm and likeable Ethan Beise), but sweet faced caroling children, his young nephew Fred (the personable Mike Mardo) and even two gentlemen soliciting donations for the poor. Denton fully commits to being a disagreeable piece of work and by the time he has tucked himself in for the evening in his sparse bachelor quarters, you find yourself waiting with anticipation for him to get the pants scared off him — and soon.

As the Ghost of Jacob Marley, Brian Sands is up to the task, soaring out above Scrooge’s head and landing atop of his four poster bed amid a whirl of clanging chains and howling wails. I am a sucker for characters that fly and the execution of all of these stunts (courtesy of Flying by Foy) throughout the show was very impressive.

Sand’s Marley is a skeletal apparition straight from a Marvel comic with a highly theatrical and thunderous voice that would be at home in any wrestling ring. This initial scene between the two contains a lot of exposition and would have been helped by a bit more sense of urgency fueling the conversation. (I mean, heck, how many times does your dead business partner show up telling you that you are going to be haunted by ghosts and oh yeah, you are pretty much screwed for all of eternity?)

Throughout the show, the narrative duties of the story are passed from character to character, a nice touch that not only gives each member of the large multi-generational cast a chance to shine, but lent itself well to the idea that this journey is shared by us all – and maybe, just maybe, we all have a chance at redemption.

The first of the predicted spirits to appear is the Ghost of Christmas Past, played as a tiny, but still striking, white-faced specter by McKenna Smith. Her solo rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter” was a highlight of the evening and while seemingly young, Smith turned in a very mature performance in this key role. She leads Scrooge back in time to witness crucial Christmas times from his life – his childhood holidays spent left alone at school, his loving sister Fan and happier times as a young man working for Fezziwig. All of the young adult cast members did a fine job as the youthful versions of the characters and the duo of Beaumont Bacon and Mike Myers as the jovial Fezziwigs are a hoot and a half.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (a lively Matt Cuddy) had a gusto that would give jolly Old St. Nick a run for his money. Soon we are visiting nephew Fred’s merry celebration and then on to the poor Cratchit household where they may not have much food on their table, they celebrate the holiday with warmth and love. Under the maternal gaze of Mrs. Cratchit (a strong Melissa Lombardi), the Cratchit clan (Chris Tomasetti as Tiny Tim, Maria Perry, Nicholas Paolo and Melinda Sheridan) all turn in nicely articulated and natural performances.

By the time the Ghost of Christmas Future (a masked Adam Landry) arrives with a clap of thunder, looming liked a hanged man above Scrooge’s head, we know this can only get darker and more deadly. Through some nice bits of stagecraft from director Mike Landry, the spirit eerily glides over the proceedings, disappearing and reappearing in impossible ways and finally sends Scrooge leaping into the depths of his possible future.

Denton once again shines in the final scenes on Christmas morning as Scrooge realizes he is not tied to that dark and lonely future, but instead has been given a chance to re-discover his own capacity for love and compassion. And that, my friends, is exactly why this tale is told and retold, year after year, in theaters around the country. Because the possibility of becoming indifferent to our fellow man and turning a blind eye to the injustices of the world exists for us all every day. And we all need a little reminder to try to “honor Christmas in our hearts and try to keep it all the year.”

Shining Light Productions presents Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol adapted by Troy Siebels and directed by Mike Landry at the Stadium Theatre this weekend, with performances Friday, December 11 at 7:30pm; Saturday, December 12 at 7:30pm and Sunday, December 13 at 2pm. A Christmas Carol is sponsored by Dr. David Ward DMD, Pepin Lumber and Woonsocket Health & Rehabilitation Centre. Tickets available online at www.stadiumtheatre.com and by phone at 401-762-4545.

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