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Review

Hartford's Stage's Revamped 'Christmas Carol' As Splendid As Ever

The Ghosts Are Scarier, Marley Flies And Bill Raymond Is Still At His Best

By FRANK RIZZO, frizzo@courant.com

The Hartford Courant

4:16 PM EST, December 10, 2013

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The show: "A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas" at Hartford Stage

What makes it special: The 16th annual holiday production gets a major re-freshening.

First impressions: The ghosts are scarier, the party scenes are more populated and Marley's Ghost flies to the rafters. But the heart and soul of the show remains intact in a glistening production to this Hartford perennial favorite.

But don't expect a re-envisioning. It's basically the same entertaining show — with Michael Wilson's smart, playful and very moving adaptation — that has entertained tens of thousands of families since the later '90s.

Anything else?: Other changes may not be quite so noticeable. Tony Straiges' set is not re-designed but rather rebuilt with a slightly crisper look. Robert Wierzel's lighting design seems sharper, too —- that is, when the spooky fog isn't rolling in. And Alejo Vietti has come on board to give some of the costumes a welcome makeover.

Such as?: The Ghost of Christmas Present. He's now quite grand. Way grand. In fact, with an epic antler headdress and a sparkling robe, it looks like Rudolph has swallowed Liberace.

And the actors?: More Hartt School acting students are involved this year and they're splendid. "Carol" veterans beginning with the extraordinary Bill Raymond as Scrooge and including Johanna Morrison, Robert Hannon Davis, Curtis Billings, Rebecka Jones, Charlie Tirrell, Michael Preston, Gillian Williams and Alan Rust continue to delight — and find new colors to their roles. Charles Turner joins the cast as one of the Solicitors and also as Scrooge at student matinees.

A special round of applause for Noble Shropshire who as Jacob Marley does some new spectacular high-flying maneuvering — and acting — amid more clouds of dry ice that could shroud the banks of London.

Who will like it?: Those who have loved the show in the past will enjoy it again in the present and no doubt, when additional elements are added over the next few years, will also enjoy it in the future.

Who won't?: Those who refuse to embrace the spirit of Charles Dickens message. You know who they are.

For the kids?: Definitely, though some of the ghosts may give very young ones a case of the heebie jeebies.

Of note: Lets hear it for patrons. a major grant from United Technologies to aid the production over the next five years, and for a gift from George Richards in memory of his wife Ann.

Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Beloved and haunting holiday classic gets some new bows and ribbons —- and some cool scary effects.

Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: Bill Raymond should get a Governors Arts Awards (and high time an actor received one, too) for giving more than 500 performances over 16 years that have touched more hearts in Connecticut than any other living actor. More than a quarter of a million people have laughed, cried and been moved by his dastardly, delightful and heart-filled Scrooge who reminds us all of the true spirit of the holiday.

The basics: The show continues through Dec. 28 at 50 Church St. Running time is two hours with one intermission. Evening performances are week-nights and weekends at 7:30 p.m.; matinee performances on Saturdays, Sundays and select weekdays at 2 p.m. Information at 860-527-5151 and www.hartfordstage.org.

Read my blog on theater, the arts and entertainment at www.courant.com/curtain. "Friend" me on Facebook at Frank Rizzo. And be the first to know by following me on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/ShowRiz -- and retweet me.