Clarence Fanto: Dickens' tale still strikes right chord

Sunday December 23, 2012


Conjuring up the Spirit of Christmas has been especially difficult this year, what with the atrocity in Newtown and the disturbing, disappointing breakdown of the fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington.

But as good luck would have it, a previously scheduled visit to the Colonial Theatre for the seventh annual viewing of the Berkshire Theatre Group's production of "A Christmas Carol" turned out to be the ideal balm for the soul and spirit.

When first seen at the Berkshire Theatre Festival's intimate Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge -- before BTF merged with the Colonial and became the BTG -- I was impressed by the authenticity of director Eric Hill's adaptation (very faithful to the novel) and his well-crafted on-stage interpretation of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Hill sees the old miser as the quintessential cynic whose gruff manner conceals a long-ago broken heart. Though avaricious and hopelessly stingy, Scrooge was a prime candidate for spiritual redemption through the visits of four Spirits because beneath that cold, bitter veneer, he still possessed the essential humanity that enabled his transformation.

In 2007, Hill described to me his view of the story's enduring appeal: "Dickens touched a nerve that catches all of us. Inside all of us is this desire to do good, to do right, in a world that encourages us to make money and to persevere at the capitalistic endeavor. There's still a human side that reaches beyond that, particularly at times of the year like this when we emphasize charity and kindness. Dickens has found at the core of human experience a kind of soulfulness, how we ultimately have to be concerned with the less fortunate among us. That's what people respond to, year-in and year-out."

Hill and his team have freshened the production annually, especially since the show relocated to the much larger Colonial Theatre last year. Special effects, visual and audio, are enhanced, but the heartfelt spirit that drives the performances is due to the acting skills of the adults and the dedication of the area children who give the show such resonance.

I decided to seek an appraisal through the eyes of the 9-year-old who lives under my roof. In the theater, he sat in the second row, mesmerized, and for this column offered the following.

"If you can, get some free time to go and see the wonderfully performed ‘A Christmas Carol,' the righteous tale that has been with us since 1843. We went on opening night. The music is sung beautifully and the acting was right on the spot. Some of my school friends performed in it. The Colonial now shows us one of the most favorite tales we all know. This is definitely a must-see performance directed by Eric Hill, who also plays Scrooge. Continuing his act for all seven years, Eric Hill collects all the joy, love and Christmas spirit, and brings it to the Colonial's A Christmas Carol!"

"Magical" is the way to describe the wide range of emotions (including plenty of humor) aroused by the show.

As Dickens wrote of Scrooge's redemption: "He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. ... It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!"

To contact Clarence or Jacob Fanto:
On Twitter: BE_cfanto


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