'A Christmas Carol' brings holiday spirit to Syracuse

Review: Syracuse Stage's production of 'A Christmas Carol' features outstanding performances from the cast and a stellar set design.

If you’re pining for some holiday cheer, Syracuse Stage will satiate your appetite.

A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens, adapted by Romulus Linney and directed by Peter Amster, is the 15th co-production between Syracuse Stage and the Syracuse University Department of Drama. This American classic tells the story of a miserly man who learns to appreciate what he has and truly embrace the spirit of Christmas.

Bob Cratchit (Nick Corley) and Tiny Tim (Hunter Metnick) know the true meaning of Christmas. Scrooge (Steven Hendrickson) looks on from the background.

Though at the time there was still a week of rehearsals to go, the Nov. 23 preview was essentially flawless. The play is excellently cast, from the spirits who present their ghostly best to Tiny Tim, who captures everyone’s hearts. The production shares the Christmas spirit, with carolers singing and parties of past at Fezziwig’s. The chorus often sings in the background, their melodies blending perfectly to each carol. However, Gerard B. McCrohan, the actor who plays the boy who sings carols, steals the show as he reminds Scrooge of what he once was — a boy all alone. The Fezziwig dance number is impeccably choreographed and enchanting. The cast seems to enjoy every second as the audience watches mesmerized, fighting the urge to get up and dance as well.

But Dickens’ story also has some spooky elements, such the visit from Jacob Marley. Amster translates this eerie scene with a dramatic entrance from underneath the stage. Green light and fog pour from hell as the ghastly Marley slowly clinks and clanks with his chain toward Ebenezer Scrooge.

Steven Hendrickson transforms into Scrooge. He embodies the curmudgeonly and fearsome old man, yelling at charity collectors and sweet boys who want to sing carols. But Hendrickson also adds his own personality to the character with points of comic relief — for example, his clown-like faces when peering out of his bed curtains, awaiting the next spirit’s visit.

Scrooge experiences his Christmases past, present and future as the set evolves fluidly for each situation in this two-act play. Linda Buchanan, the scenic designer, created simple sets with dark undertones to reflect the sinister messages of the play. The stage effects are excellent, and the simple use of characters’ shadows along the back wall adds depth to several moments throughout the production. The costumes developed by Tracy Dorman are divine, reflecting the garb of the 1800s and capturing each character’s persona. This is especially true for the three ghosts, whose costumes have added effects as they light the stage each time Scrooge flies.

The tenderest moments of the play revolve around the Cratchit family, as they struggle to exist and provide adequate care for the sickly Tiny Tim. The family has little, but shows the audience that a little can be a lot if you have family. Even Scrooge is moved by what the ghosts show him of the Cratchits, and he makes a change in the end, buying the family a ridiculously large turkey.

Director Peter Amster delivers this holiday classic in a new light. Dickens’ piece has been translated many times before, whether in stage productions or films. Adapting the piece and making it something new poses a challenge, which Amster accepted and overcame.

A Christmas Carol is perfect for families seeking quality time or the college student who wishes to reminisce on a Christmas classic. The show will be performed at the John D. Archbold Theatre at Syracuse Stage through Dec. 29. Tickets can be purchased online.

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