IRT’s “Christmas Carol” Endures As Revered Indy Holiday Tradition

December 7, 2022

L-R Elliot Sagay, Rob Johansen & Ryan Artzberger – Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used with permission.

No doubt I sound like a broken record to those who regularly read my column when I emphasize that it is not unusual for me to see the same play or musical multiple times. That has certainly been the case when it comes to reviewing Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” productions of which I have seen countless times during the theatre’s storied 50-year history. However, what made this year’s edition, which I saw Saturday on the OneAmerica Stage, so special was that it was directed by IRT’s Margot Lacy Eccles Executive Artistic Director Janet Allen.

Rob Johansen – Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used with permission.

A longtime friend and respected colleague, Allen is soon retiring after nearly 30 years at the helm of Indiana’s premiere professional theatre. Rarely directing, Allen’s creative stamp on this year’s version of the Charles Dickens classic was clear. Also notable is the fact that her final directing effort is an adaptation by the late Tom Haas, the previous IRT artistic director and Allen’s former mentor, who passed tragically from an accident in 1991. I collaborated with both Haas and Allen when I produced a documentary celebrating IRT’s 15th Anniversary for WRTV-Channel 6, in 1987.

Also making this year’s production a satisfying and affecting experience was seeing Rob Johansen, an accomplished character actor I have long admired for his extensive body of work, in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.  His characterization of the skinflint, caustic, curmudgeon, visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and later transformation into a kinder, gentler man, was multi-dimensional and nuanced. Johansen’s take on the role followed in the footsteps of actors who previously played the part and whose performances I recall with fondness. They include Bernard Kates, Frank Raiter, Charles Goad and others.

That illustrious group also includes another versatile character actor, Ryan Artzberger, who played the role numerous times previously, but in this year’s production, he excelled as Bob Cratchit, Marley, Topper, and Ensemble.

L-R Ryan Artzberger & Rob Johansen – Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used with permission.

Also turning in effective, convincing performances were other members in the inclusive cast who served as narrators in Haas’ innovative script. They included Sean Blake as Fezziwig, Christmas Present, Pawnbroker, and Ensemble; Weezie Chavers as Child Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and Ensemble; Caroline Chu as Felicity, Belle, Laundress, and Ensemble; Jennifer Johansen as Mrs. Fezziwig, Mrs. Cratchit, Prudence, and Ensemble; Elliot Sagay as Fred, Young Scrooge, Christmas Future, and Ensemble; and Maria Argentina Souza as Christmas Past, Penelope, Charwoman, and Ensemble.

Covered in artificial snow, a signature feature of this IRT production, with architectural elements left intact from the original Indiana Theatre structure in the background, the set design by Russel Metheny was striking for its originality. Designer Linda Pisano’s costumes marvelously reflected the Victorian era. The lighting design by Michael Lincoln was effective in reflecting moods that were both sinister and joyous, as was the stunning music score composed by Michael Keck.

Over the years, I have always enjoyed Allen’s informative and insightful director’s notes in show programs and her comments for “Christmas Carol” are no exception. Referencing the show as a loved holiday tradition she names it “…a steady beacon for gathering and reflection, reminding us of the essential values of the holiday season: generosity, forgiveness, and charity to those less fortunate, removing the blinders that make us self-absorbed, reaching out to others with warmth and care.” During a time of continuing social and political polarization and economic uncertainly, Allen’s perceptive words reinforce why Dickens’ cautionary tale still resonates with all who wish to be reminded of and embrace the true meaning of Christmas.

For tickets and information about Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Christmas Carol” visit irtlive.com.

 

photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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