11/26/2022 A CHRISTMAS CAROL Alliance Theatre
“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”
When the reading public first saw these words on 17 December 1843, there was little indication that the story that followed would evolve into a Holiday Icon. Greeted with near-universal acclaim, Charles Dickens little “Ghost Story of Christmas,” written in five “staves,” soon outsold all his longer works, giving Mr. Dickens a second career as a performer. Always a lover of amateur theatrics, he performed “A Christmas Carol” hundreds of times throughout the rest of his life.
Some have even accused the story of “setting the stage” and popularizing many of our modern Christmas traditions and rituals. Others have blamed it for the increasing secularization of the holiday. Whatever the truth, it remains a favourite of mine and a favourite of theatres everywhere. Thousands of stage (and film) adaptations exist, and many theatres create their own, tailoring the story to the particular talents of each group.
You know, this is how I’ve started EVERY review of the Alliance’s annual holiday Deep-Dickens-Dive for more years than sanity permits me to say. But, since they changed the staging, changed the cast, and even changed the script, maybe it’s time for me to change the review. I still look forward to this show every year, and (at least until the COVID theatre-bomb) made it Christmas Eve tradition. But because I’ll be earning extra usher points at Cobb Energy Center if I choose to work Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker” on the 24th, this year, I made an early trip Alliance-ward, fired up my ticket scanner and worked the Carol.
Let’s talk about the changes, both good and ill:
Gone is the cluttered stage filled with junk and props from Alliance Shows past (GOOD, despite the appealing conceit that we’re in Scrooge’s warehouse filled with repossessed stuff).
Present is a new set (designed by Todd Rosenthal) that is essentially a Victorian House that rotates to bring all scenes into quick focus. (Also GOOD, despite requiring a Dickens purist’s nightmare of rewritten and reimagined scenes).
Gone is the Ghost of Present rising from the stage in a cloud of smoke and splendour. (ILL. And I missed Bart Hansard too).
Present is a truly remarkable Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come, drifting down from the Flies like a Dementor at Hogwarts, truly theatrical, truly creepy, and the highlight of the show. (Must I say GOOD or is that self-evident?)
Present are some nice magical effects – characters and sets appearing and disappearing in clouds of mist and stagecraft. (VERY GOOD!)
Absent is the Old Joe sequence where we see the wicked cashing in on Scrooge’s death. (GOOD AND ILL – I missed the dark spidery Joe (blame the Muppets for that image), but I like how it was replaced by the vultures gathering at Scrooge’s doorstep, ready to pounce. OTOH, I have to ask, wouldn’t this give away the endgame to the spectral Scrooge?)
I really can’t think of anything else I truly missed from the old staging, but there’s plenty more I liked in the new:
Scrooge perched in a towering desk in his counting house, far above the rabble he so disdains.
A scene showing the funeral of Scrooge’s beloved sister, along with scenes of a warmer bond between Scrooge and Fred as a boy.
Scrooge delivering his post-transformation bounty to the Cratchit House himself.
A deeper portrait of Fred’s beloved wife.
A less bitter Mrs. Silber (Marvelously played by the always-welcome Mary Lynn Owen)
Tiny Tim buried next to Scrooge.
Victorian Carols reduced in number and all bearing contextual significance in their placement. And the four carollers dropping in and out of minor roles.
So, if it’s been a whole since you’ve seen this marvellous show, I do urge you to come back for a fresh staging, and a somewhat different perspective. It’s still Dickens, it’s still highly theatrical and spectacular, and it still gives an adrenaline boost to the holiday season.
So let’s see if I can appropriately rewrite my usual Carol-Review-Ending pastiche:
(With apologies to Mr. Dickens, Clement Clarke Moore, cast members I couldn't fit into the rhyme/rhythm schem, and anyone with a taste for poetry. And thank you Joe Knezevich for sitting this year out -"Knezevich" now and forever makes my on-line rhyming dictionary weep..)
‘Twas the month before Christmas, and on every stage,
“A Christmas Carol” played, it’s still all the rage!
A thousand-one Cratchits, four-thousand-four ghosts
Help Scrooge thaw his heart, help Fred make his toasts.
Though many more stages engage in this play,
Th’Alliance’s effort’s the subject this day.
It’s my trillionth year seeing this marvellous play,
It’s my first year keeping my quibbling at bay.
I liked Andrew Benator’s version of Scrooge,
He's harsh till he's warm, his range can be huge. .
I liked all the Cratchits, a wonderful throng.
I liked the extravagant staging and song.
And all of the costumes and all of the lights
Are beautif’lly rendered, are rapturous sights.
Leora Morris takes on the direction with skill,
And makes every moment a new kind of thrill..
The script written here by David H. Bell
May make Dickens purists think they’ve gone to ****
But I love the ideas, the focus, the tone
Especially the Future Ghost’s ominous moan.
This tale never tires, it gives me a lift.
For me it’s a welcome Victorian gift.
So, while you are wallowing in Christmassy cheer,
Remember this show that’s been here thirty year.
Before I sign off with my usual cheek,
Merry Christmas to All! May you have a safe week!
-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com #MerryChristmasToAll #AllianceTheatre #ChristmasCarol)