A Christmas Carol

By - Dec 1st, 2006 02:52 pm
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By Russ Bickerstaff

The Milwaukee Rep returns to another Christmas season with yet another production of Charles Dickens’ popular classic A Christmas Carol. With a cast of over 20 and enough scenery and props to comfortably furnish a rather large home, A Christmas Carol is an annual theatrical event attended by far more people than any other single show in Milwaukee. This is the Rep’s fourth outing with the shiny, new million dollar production that first graced the Pabst in 2003 and things are looking every bit as sharp as they did three years ago with a pacing that feels just a bit more streamlined than it was last year, even if they didn’t drop a single thing from the script adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and Edward Morgan. In her third year of directing the show, Judy Berdan is at the head of a fine tuned theatrical holiday behemoth. Everything seems just a bit more polished this year than it was in 2005. Even Marjorie Bradley Kellogg’s dark, moody set for Christmas Future with its dramatically forced perspective seems to have lost some graffiti since the last time it was lowered.

Milwaukee Rep Resident Actor Lee Ernst resumes the role of the tight-fisted, old Ebenezer Scrooge whose cold emotional detachment was brought about by psychologically damaging formative events he experienced as a young man when he looked a lot more like Gerard Neugent. It’s probably all in my head, but the difference between Neugent as young Scrooge and Ernst as old Scrooge seemed particularly drastic this time around. Neugent comes across with energetic, youthful hard work being tempered into cold ambition. Ernst comes across as miserly old age come overcome by its own comedy. The years between youth and old age have clearly not been very kind to old Eb. Mark Corkins resumes his role as Jacob Marley, the ambitious, brutally efficient businessman who draws Scrooge into an addiction for wealth so strong that a host of spirits are forced to stage a spectral intervention in order for him to regain the slightest shred of human generosity. Corkins’ stage presence is every bit as powerful as Marley’s ghost, aided by Barry G. Funderburg’s haunting sound design.

As far as individual characters and performances go, this year’s production isn’t substantially different than any other in recent memory. Those who can’t make it this year are only missing out on yet another performance of an old holiday classic. The cast hasn’t changed much in the past three years, but there are always a few differences each December. For the first time, Melinda Pfundstein joins husband Brian Vaughn this year to play husband and wife Fred and Catherine. Eva Balistrieri returns for her ninth consecutive year with the show but this year’s performance as Martha Cratchit will be her last, as she is going off to college next year. Rep interns Donte Fitzgerald and DeRante Parker pick up small parts around the edges this season’s production. Laura Gordon returns to play Mrs. Cratchit to Torrey Hanson’s Bob, but she’s still sorely missed as Scrooge’s oppressed housekeeper Mrs. Dilber. Jenny Wanasek, in her second year as Dilber, has carved out more of a personality for her portrayal of the character than she’d shown last year. And so it goes. Minor changes and shifts continue to add little bits of life to a holiday Rep tradition that goes back three decades of entertaining many, many audiences. VS

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of A Christmas Carol runs now through December 24th at the Pabst Theater. Tickets range in price and can be purchased by calling 414-224-9490 or online at www.milwaukeerep.com.

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