A Christmas Carol in Harlem: A Review
There’s a joyfully festive noise ringing out uptown and its coming from The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s production of A Christmas Carol in Harlem. It’s that time of year when theatre companies across the country pull out their volumes of the Charles Dickens classic tale of holiday redemption and mount their productions for the season of joy. Its lessons of personal and societal reclamation are always a needed and welcomed reminder. Perhaps even more so at the end of this decade and its especially last few intensely divisive years. Ty Jones, producing artistic director of CTH, has wisely decided to include the Shawn Rene Graham adapted, and Carl Cofield directed, production in their 20th anniversary celebration.
In this telling Ebenezer Scrooge, played with curmudgeonly glee by Charles Bernard Murray, is a rich high-end landlord and self-professed real estate mogul. He spends his miserly life living and working in Harlem but he never gives back to the community that he extracts so much from. He never helps his own people. He’s a major part of the problems and none of the much-needed solutions. As a matter of course, he’s visited first by his long-deceased business partner Jacob Marley, which actor Steve Greenstein brings back to weary life complete with all the dire warnings of neglected living following Scrooge into his own afterlife, and a message of possible chances to begin again with the assistance of three spirits to come in the night.
The arrivals begin with Eryn Barnes as the Ghost of Christmas Past along with her elegant acrobatics which she uses to dance circles around our dour protagonist. Andrei Pierre as the Ghost of Christmas Present is all sass, and sequins, in a glittering scene stealing performance. The unenviable task of portraying the silent, cloaked, and hooded Ghost of Christmas Future falls to Kahlil X. Daniel who along with his powerful presence and equally hooded minions manages to chill to the bone.
The Cratchit’s are here as well with Jeffrey Rashad appropriately enthusiastic as Bob Cratchit and Kenzie Ross playing Mrs. Cratchit with a well-balanced air of feminist strength and motherly love. The interesting touch in the family Cratchit is that Tiny Tim is now Tiny Timothia, a young girl played beautifully by the charming and soft voiced Emery Jones. Gabrielle Djenne doubling as both Scrooge’s sister Fan and his love interest Belle is also exquisite and Angela Polite has a very funny turn as the Clock Shop Lady who introduces an alarm clock into the proceedings as a device that could have been utilized better throughout all that followed.
Set designer Izmir Ickbal has transformed City College of New York’s Aaron Davis Hall into an abstract Harlem made of lit from within windowed boxes used as furnishings, buildings, and the New York City skyline. Lighting designer Alan C. Edwards work is subtle in its beauty and sound designer Kathy Ruvuna adds all the moodiness that this ghost story requires. It’s also the exceptional design work of projection designer Maxwell Bowman that truly makes things multidimensional. All of this is further brought to life with precision staging and the movements of choreographer Tiffany Rea-Fisher and dancers Daniela Funicello, Kat Files, Sai Rodboon, Tracy Dunbar, and Ashley LaRosa. Sprinkle in the modern Christmas carols developed under the musical direction of Kahil X. Daniel and the fantasy is complete.
A Christmas Carol in Harlem is solid family entertainment with a cause related heart at its core. It presents a story that so many of us know in yet another new light. It reminds us of Christmases past that we remember fondly, it frames all our current Christmases that we wish and hope will be all the best that they can be, and more importantly it introduces the tale to a new young audience who with their open hearts always wish that every Christmas to come will be filled with multicolored lights, beautifully wrapped presents, and much needed blessings for each and every one of us.
City College Center for the Arts’ Aaron Davis Hall
Corner of 135th St. and Convent Ave.
New York, NY 10027
Dec 4 – 21
90 minutes no intermission