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Perhaps every production of A Christmas Carol, a holiday staple around the world, is a reflection of the city in which it is produced.
In North Carolina, that would seem to be the case as well. Raleigh wouldn't be Raleigh without its long-standing Carol tradition, and there are versions in Asheville, Charlotte, Fayetteville, and now, an upstart in Greensboro, among others.
High Point, Furniture City USA, also hosts its own unique version, in the inimitable High Point Theatre, home to NCShakes, The North Carolina Shakespeare Festival. So its production of A Christmas Carol, as you would expect, reflects the mood and era of the bard. Thus it has been for 33 years, and thus it continues.
NCShakes' managing and artistic director Pedro Silva, who himself played Scrooge in the production for many years, states in the director's notes that he strives to tell Dickens' story "without any fuss," to give audiences a break from the Christmas rush that threatens to take away all meaning. With this philosophy, he says, "The High Point Theatre becomes something of a safe harbor, a place where, for a couple of hours, we can celebrate our common humanity and consider values so very important to life well lived."
On a recent night, that feeling of quietude and anticipation filled the theatre as the audience awaited the High Point version of the classic. Everyone was in for a Christmas Carol treat, NCShakes-style.
Winston-Salem native Michael Huie plays an Ebenezer Scrooge with a professorial air. Huie is no stranger to Shakespeare, having appeared in both King Lear and Hamlet. He has also played the young Scrooge in NCShakes' Carol in years past, so this stage is familiar territory. It is interesting that Huie's Scrooge feels much more benign than some you might have seen, and his downright frivolity in some scenes lends a light-spirited air to this production.
Duke Ernsberger, as Bob Cratchit, gives the production a shot of comedy and almost brings tears when that emotion is called for.
After Bob Cratchit and of course Tiny Tim, played wonderfully by young Jared Sink, in his big stage debut (no doubt we'll be seeing more of this youngster), it's the ghosts who rule the stage. Jeanmarie Collins is also a veteran Christmas Carol player, and her presence fills the room as The Ghost of Christmas Past. Perhaps the most glorious ghost is Chris White, a Charlotte native whose booming voice gives resonance to the Ghost of Christmas Present. With pipes and stature such as his, any production would benefit. White made his Carnegie Hall deubt earlier in the year with the New York Pops' The Best of Lerner & Lowe. And as for Christmas Yet to Come? Well, that spirit can be a surprise.
Mark Allen Woodard, a Christmas Carol alum since the age of 15, when he performed in his hometown of Valdese, NC, exudes the confidence that comes with veteran status as Scrooge's nephew Fred. And Stephen T. Ware, who has played Father Tim in Jan Karon's Welcome to Mitford, is festive as Mr. Fezziwig.
The set retains much of the Shakespearean flavor. In the dirge scene for Tiny Tim, however, pallbearers are dressed in black raincoats with black umbrellas, lending a very Magritte-ish look to the scene.
And, yes, winter wonderland lovers, there's snowfall!
With 28 players in all, the stage is full of Christmas cheer and many beautiful carols that ensure that audiences of NCShakes' A Christmas Carol will be filled to the brim with that wonderful nog known as Noel.
This production runs through December 24. For details, see our calendar.