Review: Portland Playhouse’s ‘A Christmas Carol’

By adding singing and instrument-playing actors, the theater dives gloriously into the Christmas spirit for a show that's anything but trite. Thru Dec 29.

By Cari Johnson December 12, 2013

Drew Harper as Scrooge

Image: Brud Giles

When Portland Playhouse announced it would produce the Christmas mainstay this year, we couldn’t help but feel a bit shocked and dismayed—this from a theater whose last two musicals were about murderers (though Andrew Jackson might not have seen himself so). But our dismay was for not. This quaint theater opened its doors with an 85-minute production that was far from trite.

The charm was immediate upon entering. The 14-person ensemble dressed in tailcoats and long, 19th century skirts served as ticket takers and concession sellers, gliding on and off the small stage and purring Christmas carols as we found our seats.

Drew Harper, the rookie actor playing Mr. Scrooge, kicked the performance off with the first lines of “Adeste Fideles” in the aisle before promptly joining the ensemble on stage. The opening chorus was certainly an appropriate teaser for an evening chock-full of musical whimsy.

A Christmas Carol
Portland Playhouse
Thru Dec 29

From what could have been yet another Carol dud, director Cristi Miles and composers Anna Lackaff and Rick Lombardo infused the typically dull script with a combination of hearty instrumentals and vocal harmonies performed by the actors. Bob Cratchit (Jeff Painter), for example, plucked a beat-up acoustic guitar at the dinner table, and Tiny Tim, played by child actress Bella Freeman-Moule, even caroled a brief solo while Cratchit strummed beside her. And while awkward transitions could have easily threatened the compact stage, the Playhouse swept away most scenes with the charged voices of a talented ensemble.

Though Harper appeared rather young to play the cantankerous Mr. Scrooge, his impeccable, grumbling performance most certainly stole the show. “Give me some shadow of my future self!” he cried to the Ghost of Christmas Present, his London accent roaring over the rest. The talented ensemble picked up where Harper left off—playing over 40 characters and props throughout the performance.

If not for the live music weaving throughout Scrooge’s vivacious monologues, the play’s sluggish script would inevitably have lead to the forced feel-goodness of most Carols. But the Portland Playhouse offered much more than a decent adaptation of the classic. Enter their theater for an immersive musical wonderland that embodies the holiday spirit.

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