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'Christmas Carol' improves with age.

Byline: Paul Kolas

'A Christmas Carol'

By Charles Dickens. Adapted and directed by Troy Siebels. Musical director Timothy Evans. Choreographer Ilyse Robbins. At the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, 2 Southbridge St., Worcester. Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m., through Dec. 28. Tickets: $28-$52, kids & students $14-$26, group tickets for 10+ $25-$47. For tickets call (877) 571-SHOW (7469), or visit www.thehanovertheatre.org With Jeremy Lawrence, Bill Mootos, Marc Geller, Zack Steele, Andrew Crowe, Tori Heinlein, Steve Gagliastro, Eric Rehm, Annie Kerins, Brian Hunter, Lea Nardi, Laura DeGiacomo, Stephanie Carlson, Shonna Cirone, Nicolas Talbot, Juliana Caputo, Alex Hill, Joanna Rosen, Jack Cormier, Lily Ramras, Aimee Doherty, Amanda Black, Kevin Hadfield, Jennifer Crews, Carter Siebels, Samantha Keville, Devon Stone and Lauren Eppinger.

WORCESTER -- Troy Siebels knows how to put on a show. The president and CEO of the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts has firmly established himself by now as the Cecil B. DeMille of local theatrical yuletide pageantry.

His annual production of "A Christmas Carol'' is never quite the same from year to year, and that's a very good thing indeed. Friday night's rousingly festive performance proved that complacency is not a word in Mr. Siebels' dictionary. And neither is it in Jeremy Lawrence's reprising portrait of Scrooge, whose thespian dexterity seems to have no boundaries. His early bah humbug, penurious personality is amusingly coated with a dash of gently sadistic humor, the way he plays with Bob Cratchit's (Zack Steele) furtive, tiptoe attempt to sneak an extra lump of coal into the fire to warm things up a bit.

Contrast that scene with one of the show's closing moments, when Bob enters the Marley and Scrooge office 18 minutes late the day after Christmas, expecting a verbal lashing from his employer. At this point, Scrooge is a reformed man, playacting the role of the tight-fisted curmudgeon he once was, before he tells Bob he's going to double his salary and warmly embraces him.

Lawrence and Steele play it out with wonderfully delineated humor and sentiment. Lawrence keeps his Scrooge fresh and alive with marvelous emotional commitment, gravitating seamlessly from scowling cynic to yearning observer to giddy philanthropist. He's even added an extra measure of physical agility to his performance by swinging from the overhead bar of his bed when he wakes up from his sobering journey through Christmases Past, Present and Future.

Siebels has inserted some clever touches in this year's production, including an allusion by one of the characters to "A Christmas Carol'' being similar to "Hamlet,'' in that without the Ghost of Hamlet's Father, there would be no "Hamlet,'' and therefore, without the Ghost of Jacob Marley, there would be no "A Christmas Carol.''

Fair enough, since Marc Geller is back once again as Marley, to fling his dire warnings at an intimidated Scrooge. Wrapped in chains, bathed in lighting designer Charlie Morrison's purple haze, the furry Geller looks like a synthesis of a deranged member of a production of "Cats'' and Shakespeare's Caliban. Sound designer Nick Joyce seems to have toned down Geller's booming echo of a voice just a bit this year, but he still elicits Scrooge's attention, and ours, with his commanding aerial show of a performance, augmented once again by the flying effects conjured by ZFX.

Andrew Crowe is also back as Scrooge's nephew Fred, imparting him with warm, teasing feeling. In a be-careful-what-you-wish-for moment, Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Present (an elegant, jovial, and thoughtful turn by Eric Rehm) to let him remain for 30 more minutes to watch a party that Fred and his wife, Millie (once again gracefully imparted by Laura DeGiacomo), are hosting. A look of shame creeps sadly across Lawrence's face as Millie guesses correctly that Fred is referring to his uncle in a game of charades. Ilyse Robbins' choreography here, during a rendition of "Greensleeves,'' is a whirling feast for the eyes and ears, as it is throughout the many ensemble crowd scenes, beginning with a rousingly sung and danced "Deck the Halls.''

Tori Heinlein glows in the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, singing "The Holly and the Ivy'' with dulcet assurance. Steve Gagliastro has a lock on the role of Mr. Fezziwig, the epitome of robust good cheer. It's a mystery how Scrooge turned into such a surly man under the apprenticeship of a jolly soul like Mr. Fezziwig. Brian Hunter is excellent as Young Ebenezer, torn between his love for Belle (a fine Lea Nardi) and his love of money.

Annie Kerins once more imbibes Mrs. Cratchit with touching empathy. She and Steele, who brings urgent tenderness to his interpretation of Bob Cratchit, make us feel for their precarious family predicament regarding Tiny Tim (a sympathy-inducing Alex Hill). In a large cast that works in remarkable unison, also noteworthy are Aimee Doherty's Laundress, Stephanie Carlson's Charwoman and Amanda Black's Lucy. Nicholas Talbot ( Young Scrooge), Juliana Caputo (Fan), Lily Ramras (Belinda Cratchit), Jack Cormier (Peter Cratchit), Jonna Rosen (Martha Cratchit) and Carter Siebels (Turkey Boy) fill in small but essential roles quite nicely.

Siebels uses several actors, as he did last year, led by Bill Mootos' appealing, embracing performance as Timothy, to intermittently narrate Dickens' classic story between scenes. It's truly impressive how he combines the epic with the intimate with equal opportunity success. The Ghost of Christmas Future seems to have grown about 10 feet this year -- a towering creature, bathed in mist and fog, frightening enough to scare the Spirit of Christmas into the most hardened soul imaginable. Joyce's screaming sound effects here are no doubt the harrowing cries of very unfortunate souls. It's great visual and aural spectacle, as is Jim Kronzer's magnificently panoramic and malleable London set design. It's a grand way to usher in the holidays.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Author:Kolas, Paul
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 21, 2014
Words:976
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