Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
A Connecticut Christmas Carol
Also see Fred's review of Hamilton
The creative artists introduce some characters who actually lived in Connecticut to augment the Christmas Carol most everyone recognizes. Thus, actor Robert Cuccioli opens the proceedings as William Gillette, and explains that he will, from this point forward, take on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. This version takes place in 1925 and word has it that the Goodspeed Opera House will close after this show. Gillette, of Gillette Castle in Haddam, Connecticut, had been known to impersonate Sherlock Holmes.
Hunter Foster, directing, wisely pushes the pace for this production, one which should work for people of all ages. Foster gets each detail right. Early on, we meet Bob Cratchit (Matt Gibson) and his family. The lively opening number, "It's the Season," is repeated again at the start of the second act. At Scrooge's office, Bob, Tiny Tim (sweet-voiced Robbie Berson), and Kathy Cratchit (Daisy Wright) combine on "Carry On." The theme of the tune is that people must move forward despite difficult personal obstacles. Bob works for miserly Scrooge who is seemingly blind to the fiscal needs of his employee. It might be impossible to pay for Tim's medical expenses and needs.
Music gently fuels the plot of the play. The Connecticut spin is to bring aboard J.P. Morgan, P.T. Barnum, Mark Twain and so forth. All actors benefit from exquisite costume design by Nicole V. Moody and Mark Adam Rampmeyer's wig and hair furnishings.
As the presentation unfolds, Scrooge, through flashback, witnesses himself as a young man. Adam Koch's murals and set design bring us to storefronts in Hartford nearly a century ago. Throughout the performance, Dan Pardo conducts four other musicians while playing piano himself. Fecho and O'Flaherty evidently muse about a time when a larger orchestra might be in order. As it is, the current configuration of highly skilled musicians is a winning way to go. It works; perhaps smaller is better.
While there is a bit of spectacle to A Connecticut Christmas Carol, the two hour plus piece is at its best when its music, lyrics and book speak for themselves. The scenic design evolves and takes us to places like Scrooge's bedroom, The Griswold Inn, a cemetery and more. Hence, this show feels original and unique.
Robert Cuccioli makes for a distinctive Gillette/Scrooge. The actor has performed for the Goodspeed before and received a Tony nomination for his role on Broadway in Jeckyll & Hyde. Matt Gibson recently appeared in the Off-Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, He is a fluent actor who lends warmth and grace to the role of Bob Cratchit. Young Robbie Berson distinguishes himself as Tiny Tim. He never misses a beat, harmonizes well, and is already a nicely disciplined actor. Michael Thomas Holmes shifts from one ghost to the next with aplomb. His is a terrific turn.
Fecho and O'Flaherty have evidenced a hope that the current show become a staple at The Godspeed for years to come. They are probably watching, examining, and re-assessing during the current run. Not everything is perfect. Tinkering might be in order, but wholesale changes are not necessary. This particular production is both endearing and imaginative. While not understated, the show (thankfully) makes certain to avoid flying over the figurative top with an excess of hoopla and special effect. The product is amusing and relaxing: a pleasure.
A Connecticut Christmas Carol, through December 30, 2018, at Goodspeed Musicals' Terris Theatre, 33 N Main St., Chester CT. For tickets, visit www.goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.