A REVIEW: 'Christmas Carol' welcomes you to Gothic England

Trish Morgan
Special to the News Tribune
The cast of Cumberland Theatre's 'A Christmas Carol'

CUMBERLAND - Cumberland Theatre welcomes you to Gothic Victorian England. Their stage has been expertly transformed into one of set designer Rhett Wolford's masterpieces, and patrons will be taken back in time to the original period when Dickens wrote his classic "A Christmas Carol.”

A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, commonly known as A Christmas Carol, is a novella by Charles Dickens, first published in London by Chapman & Hall in 1843 and illustrated by John Leech. A Christmas Carol recounts the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. After their visits, Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler man.

The mood and tone of this production is enhanced by fog, dim lighting (with exceptional work by lighting designer and lighting & sound tech/props Matt Kurzyneic and Trevor McCabe). With this particular show, the emphasis on stage design, and lighting, sound and special effects was a good call by director Kurzyneic, and all were perfectly executed to bring the audience into the 1800s.

Nicole Mattis, of Frostburg State University's Theatre and Dance Department and dialect coach for this show, did excellent work with the actors to help each of them master the English and Cockney accents - again, so important to set the tone of this holiday favorite. It was evident that these actors studied their accents diligently. I was transfixed and awed by their craft in every way.

Another very important aspect of this production is the costuming, and Jennifer Clark did her research to ensure that every actor had a costume designed for full effect. Bravo Jennifer!

While it's true that many of us have seen one version or another of "A Christmas Carol,” I encourage everyone to see Cumberland Theatre's rendition. I was so impressed with their Gothic portrayal of this story. It was chilling, haunting and exceptional.

The directors selected a perfect cast - an ensemble of our favorite characters. Bill Dennison as Scrooge was able to show a range of emotions - from his coldheartedness and greed, to his disbelief and then his transformation.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come - Kimberli Rowley (that beautiful costume!), Sean Besecker and Brendon McCabe - were each spot on with spinning the story and drawing the audience in on the journey to Scrooge's redemption. I was spellbound with the dialog, the set, the lighting and effects, and these veteran actors' work.

While every actor excelled at their roles, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Seth Thompson (Fred/Marley's Ghost), who has solid stage presence and voice protection skills, and seems to master all roles he earns. Connor McCabe (Young Ebenezer/Topper) is an actor I have been watching perform since he was a young lad. He can sing, dance, do efficient backstage work, and handle all aspects of a theatre production. "A Christmas Carol" is no exception. He just really is a superb example of doing whatever it takes to excel.

Josh Ruppenkamp (Solicitor/Featured Singer) made my heart happy with his duet of "Oh Holy Night" with Hayden Kline (Business Man/Featured Singer). This song was sung in perfect harmony, and the audience responded with well-deserved laud and applause.

One of the highlights of the show is the introduction of Olive Wolford as Belle's Daughter. This was Olive's first role in a production, although she has been involved with her parents at CT since a wee little baby. Olive earned lots of oohs and ahhs from the audience, and she earned those, too!

There are many young actors in this show, and I'm happy that local theatres understand the importance of drawing in new talent at young ages. Other youngsters taking stage in Victorian England are Lennon Windle (Tiny Tim), Thomas Kifer (Peter Cratchit) and Oliver Nau (Turkey Boy). Keep the course, little ones. You are just terrific!

Others in this ensemble cast are Marty Jellison (Bob Cratchit), Johnna Leary (Mrs. Cratchit), Kerala Bannister (Belle/Griselda), Nicole Halmos (Solicitor/Mrs. Fezziwig/Laundress), Frank Asher (Mr. Fezziwig/Business Man), Ava Breighner (Fan/Belinda Cratchit), and Brielle Windle (Martha Cratchit).

In addition to the production staff mentioned above, others are Bill Dennison, stage manager; Hayden Kline, assistant stage manager; Jennifer Clark, assistant stage manager; Danny Durr, choreographer.

"A Christmas Carol" continues this final weekend on Fri/Sat, 8 pm, and the final curtain on Sun, 2 pm.

To make reservations, call (301) 759-4990 or visit Cumberland Theatre on Facebook.

Face masks are required upon entry to the theatre, as well as throughout the show.

Trish Morgan is a local writer, columnist, poet, actor, vocalist and theater buff who has spent many  hours both on stage and back stage for numerous local productions.