Lose Yourself In The Holiday Season As “A Christmas Carol” Returns To The Rep

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Scrooge makes an invisible appearance at the Fezziwig Christmas past in the Rep’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

In what seems like a newer, streamlined version, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis brings “A Christmas Carol” to their stage for the first time in 35 years. In honor of their 50th producing season, a highly entertaining version of the classic story brings a very local feel to the festivities.

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Jerry Vogel as the leafy and highly decorated Ghost of Christmas Present guides John Rensenhouse as Scrooge through what could be in “A Christmas Carol” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

John Rensenhouse, although not a local actor, seems right at home as he’s performed in many productions here over the years. His Scrooge is what you would call definitive. The mean spirited side is in full court press as he grouses at Bob Cratchit’s laziness and the foolhardiness of his nephew Fred along with slings and arrows for anyone or anything about him that reminds him of the holiday season. It is, after all, just another working day in his mind. Then, after the infamous visits from his old partner and the three ghosts, his joy is unbounded. It’s a delightful performance filled with humor and pathos.

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Michael James Reed and Amy Loui and the rest of the Cratchit family raise a glass as John Rensenhouse as Scrooge watches on in “A Christmas Carol” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Although the other versions of “A Christmas Carol” only played a three year span in the early 80’s, this 50th season version is tied together by the sublime appearance once again of Joneal Joplin as Scrooge’s late partner Jacob Marley. His ghostly visage enhanced those productions and now he appears for his 100th performance on the Rep stage. What a legacy and what an actor. His booming voice and grim announcement to Scrooge is a highlight of this production which is wonderful from start to finish.

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John Rensenhouse as Scrooge in uncontrollably ecstatic while Ben Nordstrom as Fred looks on in horror in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of “A Christmas Carol.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Michael James Reed and Amy Loui play the downtrodden yet ever optimistic Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit. Mr. Reed’s almost apologetic demeanor changes to one of delight and pleasure as Scrooge invisibly visits his family on his journey with the Ghost of Christmas Present. And that ghost is the magnificent Jerry Vogel who has a rather dramatic entrance and drives his part of the message to Scrooge home with power and wit. He also doubles as Mr. Fezziwig in the Christmas Past segment.

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Susie Wall as Mrs. Fezziwig enjoys the attention of two young men during the Christmas Past section of “A Christmas Carol” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is given a great portrayal by Jacqueline Thompson. She shows Scrooge as a young man (Landon Tate Boyle) when he still had that spirit of the season infused in his soul  before it was turned sour by the advice he got to grab, cheat and steal if needed to amass his fortune. At the home of the annual Christmas bash, the Fezziwigs, he dances and falls in love- which soon dissolves as well as there is no time for love when there’s money to be made. Susie Wall is delightful during this scene as Mrs. Fezziwig and then makes her mark again with a great comic portrayal of Scrooge’s housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber.

The versatile Ben Nordstrom is nothing short of brilliant as nephew Fred. He even gets a big hand as he demonstrates some party games at the current day Fezziwig soiree. Landon Tate Boyle reappears as the scary, highly effective Ghost of Christmas Future which cements the deal for Scrooge and turns him back into a jolly old soul. Rounding out the major cast is Owen Hanford as a wonderful Tiny Tim. The ensemble is entirely made up of local actors and this is what makes this production so enticing. This seeming shorter script gets right to the point and this large group of actors- young and old- make the whole production sparkle like new fallen snow.

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Joneal Joplin, performing in his 100th production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis makes an appearance as Jacob Marley to a frightened John Rensenhouse as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Helping matters progress with pomp and flash is the superb technical crew. Robert Mark Morgan’s elevated backdrop and smooth scene changes are a delight to behold. Quietly impressive and enhanced by the stunning light design of Rob Denton. Dorothy Marshall Englis has designed a glamorous array of costumes and Rusty Wandall’s sound design is joyous. Jeffrey Carter has arranged the music and directed the chorus while Ellen Isom has provided appropriate choreography for this large cast. The special effects are a great boon to the production as well and the credit goes to On The FLY Productions LLC.

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Jacqueline Thompson as the Ghost Of Christmas Past starts Scrooge on his journey in “A Christmas Carol” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The main man behind this intrepid 5oth anniversary production is the current and longest running Artistic Director of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Steven Woolf. He has directed a stunning and memorable production that will guide us through this somewhat tough holiday season and hopefully give us renewed energy for the new year. There’s no “Bah, Humbug!” with this show- it’s a beautiful tribute to the Rep and the season.

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Tiny Tim (Owen Hanford) is hoisted on the shoulders of Scrooge (John Rensenhouse) in the Rep production of “A Christmas Carol.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

“A Christmas Carol” runs on the Mainstage of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through Christmas Eve, December 24th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

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