By Jordan Wright (Photo/Doug Olmstead)
It’s that jolly, spooky, heartwarming Charles Dickens time of year again and, like “The Nutcracker,” many families hold dear the tradition of seeing “A Christmas Carol” together.
The Little Theatre of Alexandria has been mounting this play for eons, but each year it’s a little bit different, depending on who directs and what elements of the story they choose to emphasize.
For director Michael J. Baker Jr., it was important to delve into the original book, plumb the depths of Dickens’ prose and cherish some of the best lines.
“Bad lobster in a dark cellar,” in which Scrooge describes the face of Marley during his first ghostly encounter, was tak- en from the original, but I had never heard it before. There’s a certain ominous and indelibly charming alliterative ring to it that sets the tone for the shades and events to come.
Baker clearly has done his homework. As a veteran of the role of Scrooge — five times! — he brings an actor’s perspective and a director’s experience to the classic tale of the penurious humbugger, Ebenezer Scrooge.
In one particular instance when young Scrooge is abandoned by his family at his boarding school, Baker draws on Dickens’ love of Ali Baba and plunks a parrot outside the window. It’s subtle, but it’s there, as is a reference to “Robin” Cru- soe, from Daniel Defoe, another of Dickens’ favorite authors.
Baker and music director Linda Wells weave in plenty of traditional Christmas carols, and sound designer Lynn Lacey throws in loads of spooky effects as the trio of spirits — they’re a new addition too — and the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Clare Baker), Future (Pat Jannell) and Present (Janette Moman, who does notable double duty as the hilariously crooked Mrs. Dilber) haunt the dickens out of Scrooge.
The sets, too, have changed. Set designer Mary Hutzler treats us to a charming Victorian village with chapel and schoolhouse and scenes of the streets that include both the poor and the posh sides of London.
But any production of “A Christmas Carol” must have its adorable children — and these are as sweet as candy canes and hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day — its grisly ghosts and its courtly gentlemen. Take note of Larry O. Grey Jr. as he smoothly segues between the dual roles of Marley’s ghost-in-chains and the jolly Fezziwig, two of the most disparate characters in the play.
Ryan Phillips shines as both Young Scrooge and Topper, and Matthew Fager is notable as the kindly Bob Cratchit. But the thread that holds the piece together is indeed Tony Gilbert as Scrooge, whose ability to go from curmudgeonly to compassionate is absolute perfection.
Find the true meaning of the season here and in your hearts.