REVIEW: ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’ at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope

William Youmans as Ebenezer Scrooge

By John Dwyer

The clock has struck, and the ghosts have appeared once again offering us insights into the secrets of the human heart and what the holidays mean to us all. Bucks County Playhouse has brought back from last year their version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

We are all hungry for this message, especially in the contentious world we live in. The whole foreign idea of “God bless us, everyone,” which is the most quoted line from this work, hits our ear today like water would hit the lips of a parched man dying of thirst. More than ever this year we need the old Scrooge to remind us who we should not be and the reformed good one to remind us who we should strive for.

This tale of redemption has been with us since 1843, and last year was the first time we saw this new version at the Playhouse entitled “Ebenezer Scrooge’s Big Playhouse Christmas Show” by Gordon Greenberg and Steven Rosen. This update has a few changes, the two biggest ones being that Scrooge has crossed the pond and has landed in our splendid town of New Hope, and that there are modern references in the play, despite its Victorian setting.

Pared down on naturalistic realism, the story is overflowing with imaginative, symbolic, and supernatural moments that only live theater can bring. Any modern reference fits right into this magical experience that defies the parameters of ordinary time. As I noted in last year’s review of the show, it reminds me of the creativity exhibited many years ago when the Royal Shakespeare Company gave us Dicken’s “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.” In using more of their imagination, the investment in the show by the audience is greater and the audience becomes more a part of the journey.

The whole show is a delight. It is a theater lover’s dream fulfilled with actors miming props, taking on multiple roles and being, to a large extent, the show’s stage hands. It reduces the storytelling to the basics. The focus becomes so singular that you are enthralled by the craftsmanship of playwright, director and actors.

William Youmans (L) and James Ludwig

It starts with all the actors around the ghost light onstage. The single light in the middle of the stage is kept lit when the rest of the stage is dark for safety reasons but, according to theatrical superstition, it is there to appease the ghosts that every theater has. New Hope has regular ghost tours and is known for its haunted houses, such as the Logan Inn and the Aaron Burr House. All of which is noted by the actors on stage as they prepare to tell this ghost story.

We all know that Scrooge is a miserable miser, and he is played marvelously by the talented William Youmans. He is the only actor to have just one role. Prior to his visitation by four ghosts, we are introduced to the most wonderful citizens of New Hope, who Mr. Scrooge ignores, or worse, reviles. We meet his nephew Fred, played by James David Larson, who is the opposite of the old curmudgeon and invites Scrooge, as he annually does, to come to Christmas dinner with him and his family. Scrooge always declines. (Larson’s multiple roles as Actor #1 include Scrooge as a young man and Tiny Tim).

We also meet two women who are collecting for charity, in particular for nerdy children. Correction: needy children. Filled with malapropisms they are delightfully written and are played by Actor #2, Sarah Manton, and Actor #3, Tina Stafford. Stanton also plays Emily, young Scrooge’s fiancée and the Ghost of Christmas Present. Stafford has the additional roles of the Ghost of Christmas Past and Mrs. Cratchit. James Ludwig returns as Actor #4, and plays Scrooge’s downtrodden clerk, Bob Cratchit, and the ghost of Jacob Marley. He did the same last year, and he is equally wonderful again this year in the role.

(L to R) Sarah Manton, Tina Stafford, William Youmans, James Ludwig, James David Larson

From the sound effects of Scrooge getting ready for bed, to the bed itself (you will have to see it to believe it), to going out in the snow, there is such rampant imagination being exhibited in this production that this oft-told tale is new again.

Kudos to Gordon Greenberg, who not only co-wrote the show but directed this production. Also, a huge thumbs up for the scenic design by Michael Carnahan, costumes by Tristan Raines, lighting by Travis McHale and sound by Bart Fasbender.

Scrooge’s immigration to the United States was made possible by the cleverness of Greenberg and Rosen. At the end of the show, the audience takes part in a party that Scrooge throws for the town in his old offices. The audience is addressed throughout the show, so there is no fourth wall between the action and the theatergoer.

Scrooge’s immigration, no wall and witty script that doesn’t border on the hilarious. It crosses the border. It is hilarious. “God bless us, everyone!”

The show continues through Dec. 30, and tickets are available online.

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