Joel Leffert plays all the characters in the premiere of his reimagined “A Christmas Carol” at Portland Stage. Photo by Mical Hutson

After many disappointments, businessman Ebenezer Scrooge decided to avoid all the “humbug” that life threw at him and go it alone. In a fresh adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” produced by Portland Stage, it takes some newly reimagined theater magic to get the infamous miser once again out of his solo bubble.

Directed by Anita Stewart, the holiday classic is being presented as a one-man show that meets the many COVID-19 guidelines the venerable company has implemented to safely carry on with live performances. This world premiere adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic is also being streamed on demand in a recorded, three-camera video version directed by Mical Hutson. The latter provides an intimate, closeup look at the play as performed live on stage and makes for an engrossing experience of theater onscreen.

As reviewed online, Joel Leffert’s original reworking of “A Christmas Carol,” in which he takes the lead role as well as all the others, is a fascinating feat of acting compressed into about 80 minutes. The theatrics of quick character and scene changes may dizzy some detail-oriented viewers. But, in the end, the message of this holiday favorite is ably conveyed and provides a cozy warmth, like Scrooge’s stove when he finally allows some extra coal to be added.

Laughs, both direct from Dickens’ writing and from Leffert’s interpretation, lighten all the thrills, chills and moral messaging that have marked the success of this story of redemption in a dim 19th-century London. The actor knows the role well, having performed it in ensemble productions on the same stage in recent years. His portrayal of the giddy celebration by the ultimately enlightened Scrooge is particularly hilarious. Whether silly or scary, though, he brings a knowing creative energy to each stage of the story.

Minimal, period-based design elements by Stewart (set and costume), Christopher Akerlind (light) and Seth Asa Sengel (sound) place the audience in a bleak period marked by extremes of income inequality. Both starlight and snow fall from above.

On stage foley operator Nancy Nichols provides a good deal of the rattles, clanks and eerie whooshes of sound that usher in the supernatural visitors to Scrooge’s troubled Christmas Eve slumber. A bit of fiddle music occasionally filters in.

With its chilling apparitions and opposing good cheer summoned to the stage by a gifted actor and the supporting professionals of Portland Stage, this new production of the ever-timely Christmas classic reconfirms that, even in the loneliest of times, togetherness is the answer.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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