REVIEW: Family and Love are the Heart of Meadow Brook Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’

A Christmas Carol was my dad’s favorite holiday movie. In fact, he owned nearly every version, so I grew up appreciating the different spin each one put on the story. But no matter the adaptation, the common thread that ran through them all was love, hope, and redemption. But it wasn’t until watching Meadow Brook Theatre’s (MBT) seminal production that I was struck with how the heart of the story is really about family.

Running through December 22 at MBT on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, this adaptation and original staging by Charles Nolte and has been performed for the last 38 years at MBT. It even has a connection to a person who could be argued as the original Tiny Tim Cratchit – Terrence Kilburn. Kilburn appeared in the 1938 film version alongside Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge and he eventually served 24 years as MBT’s Artistic Director. Even though A Christmas Carol was well-received when it was first staged at MBT, most believed it would be performed just one season, but audiences kept asking for it and before you know it, a cherished family tradition was born.

Chip DuFord as Fezziwig gets into the holiday spirit with kisses from his daughters played by Kate Akers (left) and Katy Kujala Cronin (right) while the rest of the party-goers look on.
Photo credit: Meadow Brook Theatre Facebook page

Half the fun of this performance was listening to the gentleman behind me and his appreciation for it: “Oh, wow. This looks like a movie!” And he’s right. The massive set is most impressive, as is how the scenes change and all the entrances and exits. I’m not sure if this was the first time he saw A Christmas Carol staged, but you couldn’t help feeling his enthusiasm at what was unfolding before our eyes. One part of the staging I found particularly effective is when Scrooge (Thomas D. Mahard) is taken on his journeys with the Spirit of Christmas Past (Sara Catheryn Wolf) and the Spirit of Christmas Present (Mark Rademacher). Those in the past and present cannot see him, but there are moments when Belle (Hannah Niece), Fred’s Wife (Katie Akers), and Mrs. Cratchit (Kristina Riegle) are being painfully honest in their feelings about Scrooge while looking directly at him. Obviously, they are speaking to the person(s) behind him, but the gravitas of the visual that was created was quite impactful. While every role is important, I believe because the story is so well known that we all have our prejudices with how certain characters should look or act. For me, the actors who were tailor-perfect for their roles were Peter C. Prouty as Bob Cratchit and Tyler Bolda as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. Prouty does an excellent job capturing Cratchit’s patient and optimistic personality, while Bolda exudes youthful exuberance that feels genuinely honest instead of phony. Of course, this story doesn’t work without the two characters who on the outside seem drastically different, but end up being kindred spirits: Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim (at this performance Chris Bertini). Mahard has been playing the cankerous Scrooge for 34 years and you can tell it is a role he relishes. Overall, Director Terry W. Carpenter and the entire crew are to be commended for making this story feel fresh and relevant.

L to R: Thomas D. Mahard and Chris Bertini in A Christmas Carol at MBT.
Photo Courtesy of Sean Carter Photography

Family. It isn’t always easy as we see with the relationship between Ebenezer and his nephew Fred. Family isn’t always what we’re born into, but rather what we’re welcomed into as Ebenezer discovers with the Cratchit family. And family sticks together even when the outlook is bleak because they know it’s easier to shoulder the burden when it’s shared. Being part of a production such as A Christmas Carol has to feel like a reunion for these actors. In the truest sense, they are a family. All you have to do is take a look at the cast of Christmases past to see their time spent in this world of make-believe left an indelible mark. Using that same logic, the audience becomes part of that bond. This story brings people together in a way that few can. I daresay Charles Dickens could have never predicted that so many people the world over would still find themselves returning to his story. Not bad for a tome that’s over 150 years old. No matter what is happening in our lives – the highs and lows we experience throughout the year – we all pause for this tale to be reminded of what matters. To be with family and to hope. Because it doesn’t matter how well you know the story, what matters is what you learn from it and who you share it with. And this is definitely a tradition everyone should experience.

The performance runs approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission. During the performance smoke, flashing lights, and loud noises are used. Make sure you arrive early to enjoy the carolers in period dress who entertain and interact with the audience. It really does help set the festive mood.

Experience A Christmas Carol through December 22 at Meadow Brook Theatre on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester. Tickets range from $24 to $48 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or via Ticketmaster. Groups of eight or more should call 248-370-3316 for group discounts.

This production of A Christmas Carol is made possible through the generous support of The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Kresge Foundation, The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, and the Meadow Brook Theatre Guild.

Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. Meadow Brook Theatre is a nonprofit, cultural institution proudly serving southeast Michigan for 54 years.

About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

Speak Your Mind

*