THE REAL REASON “A CHRISTMAS CAROL” CAME TO LIFE
The most classic of Christmas traditions began as an expository leaflet
By Lorraine Ryan, Burlington Writers workshop
A CHRISTMAS CAROL KEEPS THE MERRY IN CHRISTMAS
By Lorraine Ryan, Burlington Writers Workshop
Experiencing “The Christmas Carol” this year was comfort food for the soul. In a time when hearing the news is often distressing and full of uncertainties, revisiting the redemptive story brings us a hope that people and life can change for the better. It’s a message we all want to hear, especially at Christmastime as Charles Dickens instinctively knew in the first and best of his Christmas books.
Once again, the National Theatre Caravan artfully brought this Christmas tradition to life with the renowned Charles Jones’ adaption of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” that delighted the Flynn Theater’s young and young at heart audience. This exceptional theater troupe has been spreading their tidings of comfort and joy at the Flynn every year for 35 years and many are already making space in their calendars for next year’s performance.
When the curtain rises, a thrill of excitement ripples through the theater and like Ebenezer Scrooge’s time travels, we are transported to London where carolers harmoniously sing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” The songs woven throughout the play are traditional but with John J. Bennett’s score have a somewhat contemporary feel. The costumes are rich, full of vibrancy and color and the set is Broadway quality.
In this adaptation, however, the period is moved decades further. As Charles Jones explained, “The language and the story of the text are faithful to Dickens. I have taken one major liberty. The original novella was published in 1843. I have moved the time forward forty years to 1886. By this time the secular English Christmas customs were well established as we know them today. By 1886 the German Christmas Tree had become an English form. We also found that the costume silhouettes from the 1880’s were more attractive and created more readily a ‘Dickens Christmas look,’ not unlike those found in the paintings of Currier and Ives.”
Indeed, when one combines James Othuse’s set design that creates an exquisite ambiance and magical illusions, an amazing cast of 24 actors, entertaining choreography and live orchestra music, the audience feels a kinship to the story and to the characters.
Other than Ebenezer Scrooge, the rest of the ensemble wear many hats during the performance by both singing and dancing, in addition to playing one significant character. Most of the actors return each year to repeat their performances, but there is always new blood to add just a little difference. Although this adaption is noted for sprinkling a generous amount of humor in the play, there seemed more of a lightness, more jocularity this year. Even though we know that Scrooge mends his evil ways and becomes a better man, Tiny Tim thrives, and revenues will increase for the village trades people, we are aware of the gloom and doom that edge this tale of second chances. We want to make this journey with Ebenezer with plenty of smiles. And thanks to Andy Harvey’s brilliant performance as the miserly Scrooge who quickly grasps the awful truth of his life and his effect on others, we beam through most of the play. Harvey’s comic antics and facial expressions are superbly executed and very welcomed. In the opening scene a beggar (Tyler Baxter, making his debut for Nebraska Theatre Caravan) makes merry among the carolers by performing aerial cartwheels and this added touch serves to make a difference in the overall effect.
Other notables are Andy Brown’s long suffering, but amusing Bob Cratchit, Kelly Kapur’s bubbly Ghost of Christmas Past, Benjamin Wolfred’s amiable Fred, Sasha Denenberg’s sweet Tiny Tim, and equally exuberant Hannah Day (Lucy) and Carly Schneider (Millie). However, the entire cast performed flawlessly and expertly, and the resulting success of the play could not have been achieved without all of these professional actors.
The afterglow of the evening’s performance cheered and warmed us as we left the theater that cold December night, Charles Dickens’ long-ago message to be more charitable and kind tucked inside our hearts.