With the holiday season rapidly approaching it is time for Theatre Three to herald in its annual favorite, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Step inside this more than 160-year-old historic building and instantly be transported to Dickens’ Victorian England. Jeff Sanzel adapted and directs the play, and he performs Ebenezer Scrooge with relish every year for more than two decades.
One might question how the theater continues attracting audiences to a show that has been produced annually for over 20 years, but it does. This year’s opening night performance, on Saturday, November 14, attracted another large, enthusiastic crowd. Maybe audiences still flock to A Christmas Carol because of Theatre Three’s strong commitment to excellence. Regular A Christmas Carol aficionados will delight in the production’s latest twists and turns, while the integrity of Dickens’ enchanting tale remains intact.
The show begins even before the audience is in their seats. Actors gather in the main hall of the theater, adorned with festive Christmas decorations, and their sweet, soaring voices ring throughout the hall immersing the crowd in holiday cheer. Then the actors file out, signaling the audience to find their seats.
Meticulous care is taken in every aspect of this production, including the program, which is fashioned as a Victorian newspaper, Dickens’ Times, complete with headlines in Old English font.
Once seated, all eyes focus on a single spotlight, center stage, illuminating a black stand with what appears to be a glass globe, then a blackout followed by lights up on Scrooge’s office where he scoffs at his nephew, Fred Halliwell’s (Hans Paul Hendrickson) invitation to Christmas dinner. All holiday cheer is instantly extinguished, as is any request by the Seekers of Mercy for a charitable donation. Scrooge scoffs, “If they would rather die, they should do that then.”
Mrs. Dilber (Michelle Cosentino), the housekeeper, reminds Scrooge his partner Jacob Marley died 7 years ago this very night. Scrooge simply dons his robe, climbs into bed. Of course the audience is well versed in what happens next, but the depth of Steve McCoy’s Jacob Marley is riveting. He is a true villain and we clearly understand why he is forced to spend eternity in chains with each link representing yet another ill-gotten gain. When Marley speaks, a soul-chilling echo causes audible gasps from the audience.
Menacingly, he warns, “For seven years no rest, no peace, but you still have time.” A tremulous clatter of chains announces Marley’s disappearance, leaving Scrooge with a glimmer of hope if only he heeds the word.
The procession of spirits begins. Christmas Past (Amanda Geraci), striking in white satin Victorian dress, conjures Scrooge’s wretched childhood. Cast into an orphanage by his father, who blames Scrooge’s birth for his wife’s death, the child is alone even during the holidays.
Enter Fan, Scrooge’s older sister lovingly played by Megan Bush. She presents young Scrooge with the glass globe seen previously in the spotlight and surprises him with news that he is coming home for good. Unfortunately, his father can only bear three days of seeing him before banishing Scrooge back to the orphanage.
As a young man, Scrooge is working for Marley and learning the meaning of avarice. He proposes to his beloved Belle, played by Jenna Kavaler in charming, ingénue fashion. But the courtship is short-lived as she returns his engagement ring, lamenting, “Another idol has replaced me…a golden one.”
Reliving that moment is wrenching for Scrooge. Christmas Past returns him to his bedroom, but peace is quickly broken by the Ghost of Christmas Present, James D. Schultz, who gives a standout performance complete with hardy laughter as he delights in taunting Scrooge’s miserly ways, making him face the struggles of his humble clerk Bob Cratchit, deftly portrayed by Douglas J. Quattrock, who labors to provide for his large family, especially his fragile son, Tiny Tim (played by the adorable Alexander Yagud-Wolek).
The final spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Hans Paul Hendrickson), is frightening as he towers over the cringing Scrooge and points to his lonesome tombstone.
With lesson learned, a now giddy, magnanimous Scrooge uplifts the audience, raising Cratchit’s salary and promising medical care to save Tiny Tim. Scrooge bubbles, “The spirits of past, present and future shall shine through me.”
Jeff Sanzel is dynamic as Scrooge. The audience is with him from the moment he enters the stage as he takes us on an emotional journey—from mean and miserly, to gentle, sad, scared and finally elated. He is surrounded by accomplished actors, many playing multiple roles, and Randall Parsons’ effective turntable sets easily morph from dark and macabre to light and merry, thanks to Robert W. Henderson, Jr’s inspired lighting changes. Ellen Michelmore’s haunting sound effects, and period costumes by Randall Parsons and Bonnie Vidal further transport the audience.
This is a show for the entire family—so don’t just drop off the kids. People of all ages will adore this holiday gift.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol runs through December 27 at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson (412 Main Street). For more info and tickets, call the Theatre Three box office at 631-928-9100 (group sales: 631-928-1130) or visit theatrethree.com.
Barbara Anne Kirshner is a regular contributor to DansPapers.com and the author of Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund.