Northern Stage’s ‘Christmas Carol’ a children’s holiday delight

Bill Kux as Scrooge at the Northern Stage production of 'A Christmas Carol.' All photos copyright Rob Strong.

Bill Kux as Scrooge at the Northern Stage production of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ All photos copyright Rob Strong.

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2016-Telegraph Publishing LLC

It’s that season again when ballet companies polish up their “Nutcrackers” and regional theaters reheat that old chestnut “A Christmas Carol.”

White River Junction’s Northern Stage offers up its biennial production of Scrooge’s story in a production that looks very good for the most part but gets hobbled by a leaden pace and by a strange visual twist that leaves us with an unfortunately hollow, unsatisfactory finale.

Based on the novella “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas,” the version has been adapted for the stage by Michael Wilson, who hits all the right chords for the most part. Dickens’ 1843 “Carol” is an allegory of Christian redemption told in five staves, or stanzas, in keeping with the idea that this is a carol in prose. The story is a mashup of old Christmas tales of ghostly hauntings, new Victorian holiday traditions, the plight of the impoverished and a message of love and generosity.

As seen at Northern Stage, there is plenty of music and ghostly goings-on. Phantoms surround Ebenezer Scrooge from the play’s opening, writhing in ghoulish agony as mists and rain infuse the stage with foreboding.

Susan Haefner, as the Ghost of Christmas Past, left, and Bill Kux as Scrooge.

Susan Haefner, as the Ghost of Christmas Past, left, and Bill Kux as Scrooge.

We expect a story of Scrooge’s redemption but, after we meet him, we like Scrooge. Yes, he pays lip-service to the bahs! and the humbugs! and says some very nasty things to people, but we can’t help feeling that he just doesn’t mean it. Bill Kux’s portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge is a bit antic from the get-go; his heart is not thawed by his experience — he simply appears to become jollier.

It is as if Director Peter Hackett has tuned his production to the youngsters in the theater instead of paying homage to the story as originally intended. This children’s theater approach may explain the final scene in which the gray Victorian housing is done away with in favor of large, bright presents that look like they came from a department store window display and the stylized Christmas tree that, as it descends to the stage, is reminiscent of the falling chandelier from “Phantom of the Opera.”

Still, some of the more intimate scenes are highly effective, but the excellent large cast often leaves us with the impression that they have been more traffic managed than directed. The dancing ghosts dance just a bit too long and while we are treated to some wonderful special effects from Lighting and Projection Designer Dan Kotlowitz, they too have a tendency to drag on, resulting in special effects that become less special.


From left, Alexandra (Scout) Zischke, Claire Feuille, Nathaniel Krawitt, Eric Bunge, Paige Falcone, Victoria Adams-Zischke and Bill Kux.

Costume Designer Aaron Patrick DeClerk captures the spirit of John Leech’s original illustrations for the story and David Esler’s set design serves as a fine backdrop to the many visual effects.

With a running time of one hour and 45 minutes, Northern Stage’s production of “A Christmas Carol” should be enjoyed by children who do not frighten easily. But it will leave some adults feeling far from satisfied.

“A Christmas Carol” continues through Saturday, Dec. 24 at Northern Stage, the Barrette Center for the Arts, 74 Gates St., White River Junction. Performances: Wednesday through Sunday; matinees most days, call for complete schedule. For tickets and information, click here or call 802-291-9009.

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About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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