By Heidi Sutton
The holidays have arrived at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson with the 37th annual production of A Christmas Carol. In the lobby the garland is hung and the tree is trimmed and in the Mainstage theater the Victorian London set awaits the wonderful imagination of Charles Dickens and the beloved retelling of a classic tale of redemption.
Based on Dickens’ 1843 novella of the same name, A Christmas Carol introduces the audience to Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter and miserly man who has chosen “the world of business” over love, friendships and community. We first meet Scrooge “of all the good days of the year” on Christmas Eve, exactly 7 years since his business partner Jacob Marley died, as he snaps at his clerk Bob Cratchit, dismisses his nephew Fred Halliwell and chases carolers away. We see Want in the corner, a specter who will haunt Scrooge the entire show.
Later that evening Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost who offers him a precious gift — one last chance at redemption. Draped in the heavy chains he has forged in life, Marley warns Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future – in an attempt to save his immortal soul.
In one of the most important parts of the show, the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge “the shadows of things that have been” — a series of events that led him to become the man he is today — from his mother dying at childbirth; his time at Wellington House, the boarding school where he spent many Christmases alone as a boy; his loving relationship with his sister Fan and his apprenticeship with the kind-hearted Fezziwig where he proposes to his first and only love, Belle.
The shadows also reveal the exact moment when he chooses to go into a business partnership with Marley (“and so it began”) and is overtaken by greed; when Belle walks out of his life; how he turns on Fezziwig; and the death of Fan.
The cheeky Ghost of Christmas Present arrives to teach Scrooge the joys of mankind. The first stop is Bob Cratchit’s home where he finds out about Tiny Tim’s failing health and that Cratchit’s oldest daughter works long hours in the workhouses to help the family pay their bills. Scrooge’s concern is evident. The mood lightens at a dinner party hosted by his nephew where the guests mock him in spirit during a game and compare him to a bear.
A daunting 14-foot Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge the shadows of what is yet to come, including his own death and how it affects those he has wronged. The frightening notion is exactly what the miser needs to turn his life around. His transformation on Christmas Day, especially in his interaction with Want, is a joy to watch. In the end, Scrooge discovers that old Fezziwig was right all along and that love is the only thing in life worth having.
Adapted for the stage by Theatre Three’s Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, the show evolves and changes every year, keeping it fresh and exciting. This year the show features a revised underscoring created by musical director Brad Frey, slight changes to the opening and closing, a shivaree, and due to COVID regulations, Tiny Tim is a puppet, designed by gifted puppet designer Austin Michael Costello.
The entire cast is excellent, with many playing multiple roles. Sanzel, who has played the role of Scrooge in over 1400 performances, is fascinating to watch. Slightly hunched over, his character walks slowly with a cane and eases into a chair with a groan. But when the Ghost of Christmas Past brings him to Fezziwig’s Christmas Party, he jumps out of the shadows with a straight back and becomes a young man again dancing the night away with Belle.
Special mention must also be made of Douglas J. Quattrock in the role of Scrooge’s loyal clerk Bob Cratchitt (a role he has played over 750 times) whose love for his family and the holidays is unconditional. His character’s attempt to be strong for his family while his child is very sick tugs at the heartstrings.
The Victorian set, designed by Randall Parsons, is most impressive with fireplaces that glow, a four-poster bed that tucks away neatly into the wall when the set transforms to the London streets, a church with stained glass windows, and a living home decked out for the holidays. The period costumes, also designed by Parsons, are perfectly on point and the lighting and sound design by Robert W. Henderson Jr. is truly magical, a word that also best describes the entire production.
Sanzel says it best in his director’s notes.“A Christmas Carol is a beautiful reminder that we are members of a community and that our responsibilities go beyond ourselves. Scrooge’s pledge to Tiny Tim’s future shows his ability to help those in his life; his embrace of the specter of Want shows his commitment to the world entire. Dickens’ message is one not just for Christmas but for always.”
Don’t miss this beautiful show.
Arrive early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors on the Second Stage on the lower level and stay after for a Polaroid photo with Scrooge for $5 to support the theater’s scholarship fund or take one with your cellphone at no charge.
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents A Christmas Carol through Dec. 26. A special abridged sensory-sensitive performance will be held on Nov. 28 at 11 a.m. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission. Tickets are $20 each in November; $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12 in December. For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.