In Holiday Guide Reviews

Christopher Donahue (front), Zoe Francis, Renata Friedman and Karly Francis in Milwaukee Repertory Theater's 2012-13 production of "A Christmas Carol." (PHOTO: Michael Brosilow)

"A Christmas Carol" returns for a lighthearted 37th year

You know those four magic words are coming. You are ready.

You have a handkerchief or tissues. You have made advance apologies to the people who sit next to you. And you sit and wait for the words.

And you wait for the tears.

"God Bless Us, Everyone."

The Milwaukee Rep has opened its 37th production of "A Christmas Carol," the Charles Dickens masterpiece of a story about hope and despair, darkness and bitterness and both the quest and capacity for redemption.

It is a sumptuous production, a feast for the eyes during the holiday season. It is full of theatrical magic, smoke and explosions, dead bodies and the rattling of chains and the sepulchering voices of the dead and the remembered.

And yet, when Tiny Tim steps gently to the front of the stage, in front of the entire cast, and in her tiny voice (this Tiny Tim is marvelously played by 9-year-old Kate Ketelhohn) says the words, the tears were absent.

This is almost a guaranteed tearjerker, but this edition of the adaptation by Joe Heanreddy and Edward Morgan doesn't set us up for the climax.

Instead, director Aaron Posner and Scrooge Christopher Donahue, who are both making their debuts in The Rep's show, give us a Scrooge who is more funny than fearful, especially in the early going of the play.

Donahue is a commanding figure on stage with an agility of face and body that give immense impact to his every move. He shows us all of the pain and dread that Scrooge carries with him.

But, he's also comedic. The laughter from the audience was frequent and generous through the first act and even into the second, when both the ghosts of Christmas Present and Christmas Future appear.

When heading to intermission of "A Christmas Carol" we should be appalled by Scrooge and scolding of his miserly humbugs. But many people walked out chuckling to themselves. That joy meant that the journey to the joy at the end when Scrooge repents and rejoices became just a little skip rather than a huge, aggrieved leap of faith.

Having said that, the entire performance is a joy to behold. The children sparkle, the adult cast is precise and the story moves at a rather decent pace.

One bright spot was Milwaukee's own Jonathan Wainwright, who played Bob Cratchit.

Wainwright is finally beginning to move in his career; he's normally been the character with some evil and some hateful passion in his life.

In "A Christmas Carol" he shows he has the chops to be both funny and warm, which should open a whole new range of roles for him. That is a lucky trend for Milwaukee theater fans.

The Rep is right to expect that tickets sales for the event at the beautiful Pabst Theater will fly off the shelves. It is truly a worthwhile two hours.

And yet, Scrooge, as created by Dickens, was a cold hard winter of life, and his path to spring was tortured and full of fits and starts.

This Scrooge got to spring so fast that it left little time to appreciate how difficult the journey was.


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