Milwaukee Rep’s Spectacular A CHRISTMAS CAROL Retains Dickens’ Message of Morality

Left to Right: Jonathan Wainwright, Jesse Bhamrah, Annelyse Ahmad with the ensemble of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Thrilling, grand-scale entertainment.  A sweeping, heartwarming tale told with dazzling special effects, festive music and dance, and a superb cast.  Milwaukee unwrapped its first gift of the holiday season one starry night at the historic Pabst Theater.  The gift was the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of the Charles Dickens’ yuletide classic, A Christmas CarolThis year marks the Rep’s 44th production of A Christmas Carol, making it the second-longest running professional stage show in the country.  If you think these numbers point to a show that’s long overdue for the attic, think again.  Rep Artistic Director Mark Clements wrote this adaptation in 2016/17, and every year manages to make it more fresh and exciting than the previous year through the use of amazing sets and eye-popping visual effects, not to mention thunderous sound effects that make you jump out of your seat, colorful costumes, and by demanding the best from his cast.

This year’s A Christmas Carol is a spectacle to behold, a feast for the eyes, ears, heart and spirit. 

But, despite the elements at his disposal in making a theatrical production memorable, as he does this year brilliantly, Clements wants us to remember the central themes of A Christmas Carol, which he singles out in his playbill message.  He calls Dickens’ work “a moral and social tale” about “putting the love of family and friends over material gain and striving for goodness and generosity every day of the year.”  He adds that Scrooge’s “perilous journey” and brushes with morality are intended to remind us of how we should live our lives day after day, so A Christmas Carol is really a “perennial tale of relevance.”   

Jonathan Wainwright, now in his fourth year as Ebenezer Scrooge, has assumed ownership of this role like no other Milwaukee Rep Scrooge before him.  His masterful portrayal of the once miserly man who changes his ways after seeing his life as presented to him by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, is so moving, so rich with a palette of emotional shadings that you can’t help but feel happiness right alongside him as he awakens to new-found redemption on Christmas morning.

Tami Workentin, an actress with nearly 40 years of stage experience, shines as brightly in the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past as the shimmering silver gown she wears, and the spectacular light show swirling around her, as she guides Scrooge on a magical journey back in time.  Her acting is a joy to witness.  Also giving expert performances are Mark Corkins as the Ghost of Marley; Todd Denning as the Ghost of Christmas Present; and Milwaukee favorite Angela Iannone as Mrs. Fezziwig.  And seven-year-old Cecelia Golbuff is memorable in her stage debut as Tiny Tim.

A Christmas Carol also features what Clements says is the largest young performer ensemble ever.  The true delight of this show may be in watching these budding artists have a hand in creating live theater.

The Rep is dedicating this production of A Christmas Carol to Lara Leigh Dalbey, a longtime wig master and makeup supervisor for the company who died recently.  Her dedication to helping actors successfully transform into their characters for more than 20 years is inspiring.

A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 24 in the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee.  For tickets visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com or call (414) 224-9490.