A Christmas Carol has been a yearly tradition at ACT for over a quarter-century, and the cast is always so huge I'm inclined to rename it The ACT Young Conservatory Full-Employment Project, but that title sucks for a number of reasons. What the show amounts to, aside from a crowd-pleasing bit of holiday cheer, is a training ground for actors. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his Christmas Eve haunting by the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future is so familiar to the families who see it that there seems to be no need for suspense. Craig Slaight's directing wanders from one splendid but useless dance number to another, with patches of milky acting in between. Steven Anthony-Jones, I imagine, makes a powerful Scrooge, but on the night I went Rhonnie Washington stood in. He did well enough, but the large comic presence was lacking — and A Christmas Carol would be limp without its large comic presences. Brian Keith Russell's big and blustery Fezziwig is one pillar of the show; Robert Ernst's terrifying performance as Marley's Ghost, dragging his chains from a doorway pouring with mist, might be another if Ernst played it every night. (He was standing in for Washington.) After 26 years, A Christmas Carol is a huge, clanking contraption, like an old calliope at a county fair — amusing for a while but showing its age.
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