Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been performed in so many variations over the years that audiences may be tempted to not sample another one. However, A ChristmasCarol – A Ghost Story of Christmas, now at Long Island's John W. Engeman Theater, proves to be a magical Christmas treat for the entire family.
Michael Wilson's adaptation stays essentially true to Dickens' classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Wilbur Edwin Henry), the miserable miser who learns the true meaning of the holiday after a Christmas Eve spent with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future reveal a gloomy fate.
What makes this production so delightfully different is that director Mark Adam Rampmeyer, a Drama Desk Award winner for his design work on Signature Theater's production of Horton Foote's The Orphans' Home Cycle, brings his singular artistic vision to the production.
In the first moments of the show, a mesmerizing crew of ghosts floats onto the stage from all corners of the theater. As the show continues, Rampmeyer's troupe of intrepid performers must move amongst almost two dozen settings, all of which are craftily created through authentic-looking props such as a wagon, a clock, and an accounting desk that handily contribute to transporting the audience back to 1843. A balcony overlooks the main stage, allowing audiences to see what is happening "outdoors" while simultaneously letting them witness the central action on the larger space below. He also brings audiences through the fourth wall and into this enchanting world. Audiences will find themselves reaching for their gloves, as the fog gently permeates their seats and the lush snow on stage may as well be falling throughout the theater.
Among the large cast, a few performers truly stand out. As the Ghost of Christmas Future, Jason Lies gets under the audience's skin with his persuasive, machine-like motions which emulate the ticking of a clock. As the Ghost of Christmas Past, Barbara Marineau's childlike presence resonates with the younger members of the audience; decked out in frills and blonde curls, she exhibits all of the mannerisms one would expect from an adorable toy, including a high and chirpy voice. Conversely, the deep-voiced Michael James Leslie's large figure is draped in kingly red velvet as he shows Scrooge the error of his ways as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
But the biggest scene-stealer of the production is Kenneth Boys, who first appears as Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge's animated, high-pitched maid, and later returns wrapped in chains from the depths of the underworld as the twisted ghost of Jacob Marley. He has an exceptional propensity for physical comedy that makes him an audience favorite.
In addition, Ryan J. Moller's beautiful, period-appropriate costumes, ranging from top hats to scarves and 19th-century dresses, are Broadway-caliber. Cory Pattak's lighting design is also first-rate, and John Gromada's new score is suitably chilling.
Most importantly, by the play's end, one has been treated to a number of images – such as the way the ghosts make their last exit from the show or when Scrooge visits his enormous headstone in a graveyard – that will settle in the back of your mind long after the curtain comes down.