Chatham Players’ “A Christmas Carol’ starts the holiday season in style

By Liz Keill

CHATHAM, NJ – Charles Dickens’ beloved “Christmas Carol” creates a cheerful glow at The Chatham Playhouse.

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This musical version of the familiar tale features the author himself narrating, and sometimes taking part, in the story. Chip Prestera as Dickens once again delivers a solid, insightful performance in this pivotal role. Alan Semok has returned as Ebenezer Scrooge, the man who must learn to treat the world with kindness.

All the players engage with warmth in this lovely Victorian production, directed by Jeffrey Fiorello. Among the cast are Joelle Bochner as Mrs. Dickens, Owen Finnerty as Tiny Tim, Michelle Finnerty as his onstage (and off stage mother), Mrs. Cratchit and Scott Baird as Bob Cratchit. The Cratchit’s struggling family comes through with sensitivity. When Bob and his children sing “Not Tomorrow,” it’s a joyous moment, anticipating the holiday. And the moving “If I Could Hold You in My Arms" is heartbreaking when the family thinks Tiny Tim is lost.

One of the enduring and delightful numbers is “Dance with your Dumpling,” led off by Howard Fischer as Mr. Fezziwig, joined by Andrea Thibodeau as Mrs. Fezziwig and numerous cast members swirling and dancing away. The choreography by Samantha Hahn-Simpson hits a high note.

“The Pawnbroker’s Song” is catchy as well, as a motley crew haggles over Scrooge’s bed linens and curtains. Leslie Gayle Williams, Thibodeau, Ken Magos and Will Carey do a sprightly turn with all the loot they’ve collected.

Several of the actors play multiple roles. The special effects are impressive, especially a towering Will Carey as the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Even before the play begins, we’re in a festive mood as carolers in Victorian costumes, with hoop skirts, capes, bonnets and top hats serenade the audience in enduring Yuletide classics.

The book was adopted from the writings and letters of Dickens by Philip Wm. McKinley, with music and lyrics by McKinley and Suzanne Buhrer.

Costumes by Frances Harrison quickly establish the sense of London in the 1800s, with great attention to detail in the lush fabrics and muted tones. Roy Pancirov’s set of brick and stone buildings, which can be transformed to a bed chamber or school, serve the play well.

“A Christmas Carol” continues at The Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue in Chatham through Dec. 23. For tickets, call 973-635-7363 or visit ChathamPlayers.org.