12/24/2023 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.
This is my second visit to the new staging and script, and it holds up remarkably well. I look forward to this show every year, and try to make it Christmas Eve tradition.
Let’s recap the changes from the version we’d seen over and over throughout the new millennium, both good and ill. (And please forgive – or at least indulge -- my cut-and-paste from last year’s review.)
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).
Absent is Marley’s Ghost taking to the air in a mournful herd of other equally burdened ghosts. (ILL for the lesser spectacle, GOOD for the quicker segue to Christmas Past.)
Gone is the Ghost of Present rising from the stage in a cloud of smoke and splendour. (ILL). OTOH, having Act Two begin with Scrooge waking up in the Spirit’s lap is an inspired choice.)
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 – again -- 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 while since you’ve seen this marvellous show, I hope you had a chance to see it this year. Many MANY of you did, as the House Managers tottered on the brink of exhaustion at yesterday’s final performance. It’s still Dickens, it’s still highly theatrical and spectacular, and it still gives an adrenaline boost to the holiday season. I urge you to pencil it into your 2024 calendars before life (and Christmas Cheer) push it out of your mind.
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 scheme, and anyone with a taste for poetry.)
‘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 another 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.
The Director is Caitlin of Hargraves’s clan
Who made me respect her conceptual plan.
The script written here by David H. Bell
May make Dickens purists think they’ve gone down 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)
Noteworthy of kudos are a number of people whose names made my rhyming dictionary weep:
Costumes by Mariann Verheyen
Lights by Greg Hofmann
Sound by Clay Benning
Composer / Adapter / Orchestrator Kendall Simpson
Stage Manager Liz Campbell
Puppetry and Flying Effects by Tom Lee & Blair Thomas, Chicago Puppet Studio, and D2 Flying Effects
And, of course, cast members In the many dozens of roles, all of whom ensembled and chameleoned impressively. If I name any of them, I need to name them all. So, let’s get started:
Emberlynn Wood as Tiny Tim
Neal Ghant as Fezziwig
Christopher Hampton as Bob Cratchit
Clare Latham as Mrs. Cratchit
Caleb Clark as Young Scrooge
Marie Mae Lopez as Belle and Martha Cratchit
Asia Rogers as Fan and Alice (Mrs. Fred)
Dane Troy as Fred and Dick Wilkins
Lucy Long as Emma Cratchit and young Fred
Adrienne Ocfemia as Melinda Cratchit
Matthew Morris as Marley
Rhyn McLemore as Christmas Past
Brad Raymond as Christmas Present
Lyndsay Ricketson as Christmas Future
Austin Barocas, Anne Marie Gideon, and Roberto Mendez in what can only be described as a rich
bounty of roles
And, of course, Mr. Benator and Ms. Owen, mentioned above.
I apologize to any understudies who went on yesterday – the program gave no notice of any replacements