The Ghosts Come to TPAC

A Christmas Carol from the Nashville Repertory Theatre

Hyped for this play since I first saw it listed on the Nashville Repertory Theatre’s plan for the season, my interview with Artistic Director Micah-Shane Brewer (Nashville Reps ‘Christmas Carol’ (Interview with Micah-Shane Brewer, Artistic Director) – The Music City Review) only heightened my interest. The play doesn’t disappoint. 

The set and costumes (done by Gary C. Hoff and Melissa Durmon, respectively) are fantastic! The ensemble costumes aren’t identical bland outfits, but each character has their own look: dresses and tailcoats, different colors and patterns, all well-fitted to the cast. Main characters stand out from the others by their lines and the staging, and small side characters are helpfully recognizable by distinctive hats, wigs, and the like. The sets are many, each full of details, from props to moulding on the walls. This gives a lavish and sincere air of festivity to the show, and makes each change of setting fun. Projections on the main backdrop usually match the sets, but occasionally are distracting as the image moves or backlights the wires as characters fly.

Just look at these costumes! Galen Fott and Denice Hicks as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, with ensemble

Each Ghost has distinctly different vibes (although most of them flew at some point, one of them dragging an unwilling Scrooge along). The Ghost of Christmas Future spends a lot of time in the air, and its gloomy presence is threatening and massive, although less movement could have made it more threatening. Cloaked in black, the costume department kept it creepy and avoided the easy error of making it a knock-off dementor.

While not a musical, there are original songs, dancing, and many classic carols. For the large original songs there is not live music accompanying the cast, but a track, and the canned quality of the recording steals somewhat from the richness of the music. However, the majority of musical moments are carols sung a capella or with actors playing live guitar or fiddle. This is probably my favorite aspect of this adaptation, which matches the title so well. The (presumably) historically correct carols are well chosen, well sung, well accompanied, and their placement within the play is excellent: carolers sing and are insulted by Scrooge, songs are sung by the cast while they enjoy Christmas parties, and carolers sing while set pieces are shifted about. Delightful in themselves, they add a musical richness to the world Dickens created, and Scrooge’s desire to join in with the dancing while attending a party with the Ghost of Christmas Present is palpably relatable. 

Shabaz Ujima’s big happy choreography on display

There is no narration, and it is never needed. Micah-Shane Brewer’s adaptation remains faithful to the book without slowing the pace to tell us what is easily shown. The pacing of the play is good, and it does not feel 2.5 hours long (there’s an intermission midway through the Ghost of Christmas Present’s visit). There are a few added moments of humor that match the tone of the play. Brewer doesn’t shoehorn anything into or out of the story and there’s no gimmick. His tone matches the novel’s, and the darker moments (for example, the children Ignorance and Want) aren’t avoided, emphasizing the purpose of the play: to show that the true spirit of Christmas is generosity and love through helping others. Scenes that are often shortened in adaptations are given the emphasis the novel gives them. Everyday people celebrating Christmas or spending an evening together showcase the everyday goodness and love that endures through adversity, and that is what truly breaks Scrooge’s cold heart.

Matthew Carlton as Scrooge and Brian Charles Rooney as the Ghost of Christmas Present

The cast is marvelous: Matthew Carlton is perfect as Ebenezer Scrooge. He nails being a miser, undergoing a steady transformation, and ending in joyful redemption. On stage basically the entire play, his performance never loses energy. Brian Charles Rooney plays my favorite Ghost of Christmas Present. He’s funny, ho ho’s well and with spirit (but never aggressively or painfully, as I’ve seen others do) and his mysterious but somewhat comical nature is well-balanced. The Cratchits are eminently likable, never twee or dully moralizing. 

The Cratchits and Scrooge

When I attended opening night in TPAC’s Polk Theater, the audience was mainly adults, but there were some young children who were impressively well-behaved throughout the performance, although I’d recommend only bringing your kid if they’re old enough to sit through (and pay attention to) talking scenes in movies. While the play is family friendly and focused, with music, spectacle, dancing, and special effects, most of the play is dialogue.

This play is the Nashville Repertory Theatre, yet again, bringing a fantastic performance to Music City. Seeing this quality adaptation of the archetypal Christmas story was the best way to set off my Christmas spirit powerfully enough to sustain me through the Christmas shopping that I’ve yet to begin. 

Shows continue at TPAC’s Polk Theater through the 17th. For tickets and more information, see A Christmas Carol — Nashville Repertory Theatre

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