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REVIEW: ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’s Big Playhouse Christmas Show’ at Bucks County Playhouse

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

By John Millman-Dwyer

Every year at the same time, I have an apparition: It is the ghost of a friend and business partner, and three spirits, telling of the past, present and future. But this is not an unwelcome spirit, because in the end, it is all about the holiday spirit in the form of “A Christmas Carol.”

There are many tellings of this tale. There is the original story by Charles Dickens that you can read. But there are also plays and musicals and several movies that all tell the story with various degrees of success.

One of the best pieces of storytelling has been at Bucks County Playhouse, where an imaginative re-working has been done with “Ebenezer Scrooge’s Big Playhouse Christmas Show.” For those who recently went to Langhorne Players for their sold-out “The 39 Steps,” this rendering of “A Christmas Carol” is for you. Actually, this re-working of Charles Dickens’ s classic is for anyone who wants to marvel at theatrical creativity and at the skills of great actors who are put to the test to change costume and identity in a split second. The utter magic cannot be denied.

William Youmans (left) and James Ludwig (Photo: Margaryta Kenis)

The central character, like the aforementioned “39 Steps,” is one actor who only plays that one part. The other four actors change costumes and sets and create a whirlwind that pushes Scrooge and the audience along. In this re-imagined story, Scrooge has traveled abroad and settled in New Hope. His offices are in the center of town, and he is both banker and moneylender. All the rest is pretty much the same with the exception of the ending, where we are all part of a party.

Matthew Greer may be the best curmudgeon yet. He is perfectly miserable as the miser Scrooge. The other actors perform their chameleon duties with skill, good humor and aplomb. James Ludwig originated the role of Actor #4 back in 2017. His acting bravado has him going from the frighteningly scary ghost of Jacob Marley to the warmth of Bob Cratchit. Three other actors are joining him this year, and all are up to their tasks. Jenelle Chu and Maggie Hollinbeck are Actors 2 and 3 respectively. Chu as Actor 2 plays Emily, Young Scrooge’s fiancée and the Ghost of Christmas Present. Hollinbeck as Actor 3 is Mrs. Cratchit and The Ghost of Christmas Present. Together they constitute two women who are collecting for charity that are the funniest team since Abbot and Costello. Their malapropisms are adorable in the face of Scrooge, the rudest of men.

Actor 1 is played by Ian Lowe, who is charming and affable and cute, whether playing the roles of nephew Fred, the young Scrooge or, yes, Tiny Tim. If the Cratchits would ever be forced to give him up, you would adopt Ian Lowe’s Tiny Tim in a heartbeat. As amusing as young Scrooge is to begin with, Lowe gets him to where he is so much business that he rejects all else. A great 180-degree turn from the funny to the bitter and sad by Lowe as the younger Scrooge.

James Ludwig (Photo: Margaryta Kenis)

It all constitutes creativity at its finest and an unforgettable theater experience — something exciting that can never be done justice in a similar medium. It is a tightrope of on-the-spot acting that seems like shapeshifting with a crackerjack production team that gives you a holiday experience you will not be able to duplicate elsewhere. Hats off to Steven Rosen and Gordon Greenberg for the best “Christmas Carol” ever.

Because so much is dependent on stagecraft, I want to throw out kudos to scenic designer Michael Carnahan, costume designer Tristan Raines, lighting designer Travis McHale, sound designer Bart Fasbender, wigs and hair by Ashley Callahan, and properties master Christine Goldman.

With a paucity of actors — only five — you still have a veritable feast. And though stuffed to the gills with talent, I am greedy. I want to come back for more.

The show goes to Dec. 29, and tickets are available online.

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