By Karen Isaacs
Goodspeed has brought back a revised version of A Connecticut Christmas Carol at the Terris Theater in Chester, through Dec. 30 which as you might surmise sets the Dickens story in Connecticut in 1925. The show premiered at the Terris last year, but has been revised.
This telling of the story has a lot to like in it, though it still needs work.
Writers L J Fecho (book) and Michael O’Flaherty (music and lyrics) have set the show at Goodspeed and use the famed actor William Gillette as the narrator and Scrooge. Gillette was famous for touring as Sherlock Holmes (he claims to have originated the phrase, “it’s elementary” and the famous deerstalker hat). Gillette was not only an actor, but playwright, producer and company manager. Plus he built his home overlooking the Connecticut River just a bit south of Goodspeed. The home – really a castle – is now a state park.
So it is 1925 and William Goodspeed is thinking of selling the theater in East Haddam; he calls upon Gillette and his players to do a performance at Christmas time.
It is the classic Dickens tale, but there are references to Connecticut throughout, some of which many audience members may not recognize – references to department stores in Hartford that are long gone – and other things.
The ghosts are still Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, but they are embodied as the spirits of famous residents to Connecticut: Benedict Arnold, who was born in Norwich Mark Twain and P. T. Barnum.
Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s former partner has turned into J. P. Morgan, the famous tycoon. It seems that in this version, Marley/Morgan manipulates Scrooge into some of his worse actions, including demanded that Goodspeed repay a loan immediately on Christmas Eve. That costs Scrooge his fiancée, Isabel, Goodspeed’s niece.
But we still have Tiny Tim (played sweetly by Robbie Berson) in deteriorating health, Bob Crachit struggling to provide for his family and Scrooge’s nephew inviting his Uncle to dinner.
Robert Cuccioli is playing Scrooge and he is excellent. He has a long list of Broadway credits and award nominations (and wins) for musicals like Jekyll and Hyde, Les Miz, Spider Man, Jacques Brell and others. He brings an authority and charisma to the role that was somewhat lacking last year. With him as Scrooge, the entire piece seems livelier and better paced.
Plus, of course, he has a terrific voice.
The three ghosts are all played by Michael Thomas Holmes who is returning to the part. He also play’s Marley/Morgan’s ghost. If the show were expanded, I’d like to see different performers as each of the ghosts, but Holmes does a bang up job.
One of the authors and director’s decision is to have the Arnold, Twain and Barnum somewhat vaudevillian in their roles. This detracts from the scariness of them. It does give Barnum and the show, a chance for a circus like number.
Except for Matt Gibson who plays Crachit with a quiet dignity (or weariness), the remaining cast members double in various roles. Usually there is enough differentiation in costumes (by Nicole V. Moody) to know which role they are playing, but you can occasionally get confused.
As would expected at Goodspeed there is an excellent set (by Adam Koch), lighting (Jennifer Schreiver), sound (Jay Hilton) as well as choreography by Lisa Scriver. Director Hunter Foster has returned to the production and his experience with it last year shows. There seems to be more dancing in this year’s production and the pace seems better. The show has added an intermission.
This year, I came away with a deeper appreciation for the score by O’Flaherty. It contains some delightful tunes including “Everyone But You,” “Stars in the Sky” and “How Can You Resist the Irresistible?” This may be due to Cuccioli’s voice and presence though he doesn’t get to sing enough. Or Foster has added some zip to the numbers.
This show is still a work-in-progress. From it’s opening this year to when I saw it, the intermission had been added and a song in the first scene. I’m sure they will continue to work on it. As they do, I wish they would question the necessity of the song “Krampus” and the character. This Central European figure during the Christmas season was the opposite of Santa; he came to torment, punish and scare the children. Neither the character nor the song add anything to show.
This is a terrific show for kids of all ages. For tickets, visit Goodspeed. or call 860-873-8668.