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BETHEL — In that magical moment when Tiny Tim gazed at the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge in the closing minutes of the latest recreation of NewArts production of A Christmas Carol and uttered that famous line, “God bless us… everyone,” the theater at Walnut Hill Community Church went so starkly silent that you could practically hear the welled-up tears of audience members hitting the floor.
The dual cast of this year’s holiday favorite under the direction of Michael Unger — who was at the helm for his 20th production — took the show’s attendees on an emotional roller coaster that evoked outright belly laughs, terrified shrieks, empathy, disgust, and a whole lot of joy.
Utilizing experience gained from 18 previous years directing A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., before moving the production and a fortune in Broadway-quality Victorian-era stage sets, props, and costume pieces to the welcoming Bethel facility last year, Mr Unger coaxed an unbeatable combination of excitement and attention to detail from his multigenerational cast.
Led by an Unger/McCarter veteran, Graeme Malcolm literally became Scrooge, which had to spur each cast member to deliver their best. And since Mr Malcolm was on stage for what appeared to be more than 95 percent of the time, it was easy to see why this production could never really be regarded as “amateur.”
In fact, whether it is with this perennial Dickens adaptation, or the many summer musicals Mr Unger has delivered with NewArts since his debut with Seussical The Musical in 2013, the understated director has endeavored to present what he has described to The Newtown Bee on several occasions as a “viable alternative to Broadway.” He continues to do that with just a few minutes drive for most Newtown residents.
On the evening of this show, featuring the Holly cast (versus the Mistletoe cast version), Malcolm worked more than effectively with the spectacularly innocent and earnest Danny Stutman’s Tiny Tim. Tain Gregory (Peter Cratchit) along with on-stage siblings Ellie Lemieux (Belinda), and Avery Siburn (Martha) worked so well with Lisa Bollacke and Tim Huber (Bob and Mrs Cratchit) that their interplay was as seamless as it was natural.
Each of the “ghosts” were precisely portrayed, from Joseph DeVellis’s chain-wielding Jacob Marley to Brianna Bowman’s plucky Spirit of Christmas Present, the sprightly Spirits of Christmas Past played that night by Reese Wheat, Teigan DaCunha, Matiya Koussai, Natalie McLean, and Spohia Terilli, to the looming and terrifying Spirit of Christmas Future rod puppet and its handy manipulators Jake Nicolari and Jason Winter.
The remaining cast members, who were presumably equally stellar in the Mistletoe cast version, each helped make NewArts A Christmas Carol the must-see holiday treat that had ticket holders raving on social networks. The huge group of Caroling chorus members, the exuberant dancers and guests at the Fezziwig party, and the bustling ensemble of adults and younger cast who made the many street scenes come alive are all to be credited as well.
Every since one of them helped transport their audiences, even for a few minutes, to perhaps not a kinder, gentler time, but to a place where all could bear witness to the incredible power of love and revelation — where even the most soured and hopeless among us possesses the potential to be transformed, and maybe even made to shed a few tears at the beauty of it all.