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February 24, 2015

"A Christmas Carol" at Orlando Shakespeare Theater

Reprint from original publishing on December 19, 2014
All photos: Orlando Shakes (by Landon St. Gordon)
First published in 1843, Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is the epitome of a timeless classic. The retellings of this story are countless - on pages, in film, and of course... on stage. This year, Orlando Shakes has chosen to tackle the traditional favorite, and what they have created would certainly make Dickens proud!


Orlando Shakespeare Theater was founded in 1989, in partnership with UCF. An intimate theater setting, Orlando Shakes delivers comfortable formality with professional flair. Known for high-caliber performances, Orlando Shakes sets the standard for dramatic arts in Central Florida. And the cast and crew of this year's holiday production have served up a masterpiece in "A Christmas Carol".
Written by Orlando Shakespeare Theater's artistic director, Jim Helsinger, and directed by Michael Carleton, this stage adaptation is presented from the perspective of a small Victorian family, gathered together for a Christmas party, when the youngest member stumbles upon a book in the attic. That book is "A Christmas Carol", and the family eagerly bands together to share the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, to the wonderment of the young boy - and the audience gathered rapt, 'round the stage.




The tale is familiar, but the show is surprising. With little change to set or scene, the cast and audience are easily transported through time and place with spectacular versions of the endearing Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. Effects and wardrobe are beyond impressive, combining to lead all shifts and angles seamlessly along the path of Scrooge's reluctant awakening. The effects in both visuals and sound enhance the appearance of the harbinger spirits in a way that makes them startlingly real - and so much more than you'd ever expect in this environment. At the risk of sounding uncultured - I never knew theater could be so good!



With nine actors, the occasion arises for role-juggling, with each instance being pulled off flawlessly. At times, the character transformations were so dramatic (and rapid) that it was impossible to recognize which actors were tackling the dual roles. Overall, the level of actor performance can only be described as top-notch. Unlike many theater-based shows I've attended, there was no need to strain to hear an utterance. Vocally, whether in speak or song - every line was precise and strong. These are the types of actors that win-over reluctant audiences! Chris Crawford was a delightful standout in the dual roles of the oldest son of the Victorian family, and Fred - Ebenezer's nephew. There was just something about his enthusiasm, pitch, and delivery that blended to make him exceedingly memorable, and a true pleasure to observe. Not to slight the offerings of the remainder of the lovably remarkable cast: Paul Bernardo, Sarah Caroline Billings, Anne Hering, Steven Lane, Steven Patterson, Danielle Renee, Carly Swain, and the utterly adorable young Parker Sims-Chin.
A tale of hope... a tale of redemption. "A Christmas Carol" at Orlando Shakes is performed with the professionalism, respect, and passion that a classic deserves. Of the many adaptations you'll encounter in life - this is one that tops the list!

"A Christmas Carol" is being presented at Orlando Shakespeare Theater through December 28, followed by "To Kill a Mockingbird", beginning January 21.