Review: See Alliance’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ now, or it will haunt you


The next time you see a lonely soul, shut off from the warmth of the world, don’t judge.

Read closely the text of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Follow carefully David H. Bell’s magnificent Alliance Theatre treatment of the Victorian text. And you will see that the crusty, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is a man with a broken heart.

But in life as in literature, man’s capacity for spiritual awakening springs eternal.

Even on the coldest days of winter, even when generous, good-hearted people have been evicted from their homes, even when hardworking families have sick children and very little to eat, there is light.

For 27 years, the Alliance has brought Dickens’ London to Peachtree Street. Bell’s treatment, with its integrated cast, haunting music, prop-laden stage and glitzy special effects, arrived around the time I started reviewing theater for this newspaper in 2001, and over the years, it has become a sentimental favorite.

Year after year, thoughtful directors (like the current Rosemary Newcott) refine and tweak. Actors come and go. Tiny Tims grow up. But the show never fails me. I’m always crushed by Belle’s jilting of Scrooge, by the Fezziwigs’ loss of fortune, by the Cratchit family’s pure love. And I’m always reminted by Scrooge’s 11th-hour transformation.

If you’ve postponed seeing this production, or haven’t yet seen David de Vries’ deliciously intimidating take on Scrooge, time is of the essence.

When the Alliance closes for renovation next year, it will produce its 2017-2018 season at temporary spaces across the city. Yes, Bell’s “Christmas Carol” will be staged at some as-yet-unannounced location in 2017, but never again on this stage. When the Alliance unveils the new Coca-Cola Stage in the fall of 2018, it will produce a new adaptation of “Christmas Carol” by Bell.

For now, let us bask in the splendors before us: the creme de la creme of the Atlanta theater community all tied up here under one big bow. (Literally, if you look at D Martyn Bookwalter’s set, with its soaring arched window, festooned with red ribbon.)

I can’t say enough good things about Neal Ghant (Bob Cratchit), Ann Marie Gideon (Belle and others), Joe Knezevich (Fred), Lowrey Brown (Young Scrooge), Bart Hansard (Mr. Fezziwig, Ghost of Christmas Present) and Minka Wiltz (in a variety of smaller but highly memorable roles, including a filthy junk dealer and street vendor hawking “fine Spanish onions,” of all things).

Ghant is the sort of actor who can arouse laughter without saying a word. (Just watch his expression when Cratchit beholds his newly generous boss man.) Hansard is indubitably the best person in the city to play the portly, frog-shaped Fezziwig. Brown’s prophetic profession that he is unworthy of Belle’s love is deeply moving. And Wiltz’s lilting and radiant operatic voice is never lost in the noisy din of London. (I hear you!)

And then there’s the pint-size Marco Schittone. The kid’s got Broadway credentials already, and may well be the most polished and articulate Tiny Tim I’ve witnessed. (And I’ve seen a lot.) Chris Kayser, who handed Scrooge’s sleeping cap to de Vries in 2014, is back as Marley, and he’s a cold, icy ghost to be sure.

De Vries, for his part, is fully transformed into a glowering and formidable Scrooge. His take is finely nuanced, never over-the-top. That is, until he becomes the bouncing, buoyantly happy, born-again child in the old man’s body.

Well played, and God bless you, everyone. You’ll be missed.

THEATER REVIEW

“A Christmas Carol”

Grade: A

7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Through Dec. 24. There will be no performances on Dec. 2, no 7:30 p.m. performance on Dec. 4, no performance on Dec. 7 and Dec. 9, no 7:30 p.m. performance on Dec. 11, and no performance on Dec. 14. There will be extra 2:30 p.m. performances on Dec. 21-23. $20-$72. Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-5000, alliancetheatre.org.

Bottom line: Last chance to see this masterful Dickens adaptation on this stage.

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