Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

A Christmas Carol
Cincinnati Landmark Productions
Review by Rick Pender

Also see Rick's review of The Dancing Princesses

Tim Perrino
Photo by Tammy Cassesa
Charles Dickens more or less created the celebration of Christmas as we know it today. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, is not just a staple of the holidays, it's the cornerstone–as well as the cash cow for hundreds of theater companies. For three decades, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park staged a wonderful adaptation by Howard Dallin. Annual attendance became a beloved tradition for many Cincinnati families. It took a year off during the pandemic, then came back for one final "Bah, humbug" a year ago. The Playhouse plans a new adaptation for 2023 on its new mainstage, Moe and Jack's Place–The Rouse Theatre. (In the meantime, the jolly Fezziwigs will take up residence at the Phoenix, 812 Race St., Cincinnati, December 14-18 with parlor games, puppet shows, Victorian-era group dances, and the chance to mingle with Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig and other characters.)

So what's left for area residents yearning for a dose of "the real thing" in 2022? Cincinnati Landmark Productions has remounted its musicalized version of A Christmas Carol at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. It pales by comparison to the Playhouse's longtime, lush staging, but it does cover all the bases of Dickens' story of Ebenezer Scrooge's ghostly Christmas Eve conversion from a mean, tight-fisted miser to a kind, generous philanthropist. And it does so with musical numbers that are rooted in the Dickens story.

Tim Perrino, Cincinnati Landmark's artistic director, plays a grumpy but not terribly threatening Scrooge. He is also the lyricist and the adaptation's author. The musical's composer is Jeremy Helmes. This A Christmas Carol has been staged at the Covedale several times, most recently in 2013. We are guided through the action by actor Douglas Berlon playing Charles Dickens. He narrates the action and steps into occasional scenes as a character, directing a choir or wrangling a recalcitrant child Scrooge seeks to recruit to buy a turkey for the Cratchits. He even wanders into the audience to mark the tale's movement from one "stave" to the next without explaining what that term means. (A stave is the set of parallel lines on which musical notes are written. Referring to A Christmas Carol's chapters as staves, Dickens seems to have suggested that his novella was a joyous, uplifting and moral tale.)

This production employs 27 actors, including many children. The stage is often teeming with performers, especially during the opening number, "Dear Mr. Scrooge" (a song strongly resembling "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from the animated 1966 Dr. Seuss Christmas tale). At one point, the chorus of child players actually harasses Scrooge; the adult chorus provides background for several scenes, but they are unfortunately distracting as eerie threatening spirits during the section with the Ghost of Christmas Future. The abundance of stage business disrupts the momentum of the action.

A few actors play multiple roles, including Dave Woellert as Jacob Marley, Scrooge's long dead business partner, and Old Joe, the creepy pawnbroker who is willing to buy leftover items from Scrooge's household. Jordan Darnell is the giddy Ghost of Christmas Past as well as nephew Fred's thoughtful wife. Justin Glazer takes on the jocular roles of Christmas Present and Mr. Fezziwig. Mrs. Fezziwig is played by Annie Schneider, who also gives strong voice to two smaller characters, a baker and a laundress, who have issues with Scrooge's miserly ways.

Several cast members have excellent voices, especially Kali Marsh as Belle, Scrooge's onetime fiancée. Her rendition of "Finding My Way," reprised with feeling in the second act, is a highlight. Jeremiah Plessinger uses his affecting tenor and natural acting skill to portray a believable and likable Bob Cratchit. Kelsey Chandler as Mrs. Cratchit partners with him and three Cratchit children (played by Jamie Swisshelm, Maggie Zink and Parker Roland) for a pleasant three-part number, "Christmas Treasures," "Candle Carol," and "Streets of Bethlehem," following the family's Christmas dinner. Aaron Marshall's portrays an ebullient Nephew Fred with high spirits, pestering Scrooge in the first act by singing a duet with Bob Cratchit, "Christmas First of All," and then being a raucous host at a Christmas party with friends, describing a game, "Yes and No."

Brett Bowling's simple two-dimensional scenic design does not attempt to be realistic. A large portal at center stage features various furnishings that are moved in and out–Scrooge's writing desk, his bed, and an upholstered chair–to depict moments in those settings. Otherwise, the action is continuously set on a sketchily drawn London street.

It should be said that the Covedale cast perform this version of A Christmas Carol with energy and enthusiasm. The full-house Covedale audience wearing Santa hats and sprightly Christmas sweaters responded warmly to the performance I attended. It's evidence that Dickens' heartwarming message has a power that fuels many interpretations and connects with audiences every time. It's why this morality tale has become so embedded in our Christmas celebrations.

A Christmas Carol runs through December 23, 2022, produced by Cincinnati Landmark Productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, 4990 Glenway Avenue, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please visit or call 513-241-6550.