Theater Review: “A Christmas Carol” by Montford Park Players

Get your humbug on with Montford Park Players' A Christmas Carol

For Asheville audiences, A Christmas Carol has long been synonymous with the Montford Park Players. The theater group has found many clever ways to reimagine and reinterpret the Charles Dickens story throughout the years. Many performers look forward to being a part of the show just as audiences have made it a tradition to go and see it. The production, onstage at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre, runs through Sunday, Dec. 18.

Earlier this year, the Montford Park Players lost their inspirational founder when Hazel Robinson passed. Artistic director Scott Keel decided to bring back a classic Robinson adaptation of the play. Also earlier in the year, the long-standing relationship between the Montford Park Players and the downtown Masonic Temple ended, presenting the theater group with another challenge since the company was accustomed to transferring shows to the temple’s indoor space during colder weather.

From those obstacles, the group found inspiration. Not only are are Montford Park Players producing a slightly amended version of Robinson’s script, they are doing so upon the very outdoor stage that bears her name. It is a bit of a bold move, as it requires audience members to bundle up and huddle close to view the holiday classic. And despite the concerns of great rumblings and mumblings from a potentially inconvenienced audience, the magic of the story,and the dedication of the telling propel it forward in a charming new way.

You can see the breath of the actors as they wind their way through the tale of redemption of Ebeneezer Scrooge. The central character is haunted by his past, confronted with his curmudgeonly present and taunted by the dark potential future that his actions portend. Keel has directed a precise and jolly production. He also serves as the narrator of the tale, keeping the pace as spirited as the antics on stage. Kevin Norris gives a grumpy take on Scrooge, with his sandpaper-rough intonations and fussy shuffle.

Three dozen performers help to fill out the production. Sophie Stanley lends elegance and grace to the ghost of Christmas past, while Travis Kelley is a gregarious and towering ghost of Christmas present. The future spectre is an audience favorite, as it manifests as a large and looming puppet that rises from behind the stage to cast a daunting eye down upon Scrooge. Badi Mirheli does double duty as a young Scrooge and the elder Scrooge’s nephew. The audience was clearly delighted to see company manager John Russell make a rare stage appearance as the jolly Fezziwig. Jane Halstrom is a delight at his side as Mrs. Fezziwig. Chris Martin gives us a sympathetic Bob Cratchit, and Keith Crissman is a cherubic delight as Tiny Tim.

The Montford Park Player’s stage has been transformed into a Victorian England city street, thanks to Devyn Ray’s clever design. If you look close, you will find some Easter eggs spread through the stage, including nods to Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, among many others.

Bundle up and plan to arrive a bit early. Montford Park Player’s “A Day With Dickens” festival starts at 3 p.m. with hot beverages and lots of activities and crafts for the whole family.

WHAT: A Christmas Carol by Montford Park Players
WHERE: Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre, 100 Gay St.
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18. 3 p.m. for “A Day With Dickens,” 5 p.m. for the performance. Free

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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