There are some timeless things that sprout up every December, rooted in our social unconscious, and flower while winter ravages the world outside. Of these holiday expectations and cultural phenomenon, one of the most enduring is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Since this book was written in 1843, the story has been adapted into live action movies and animated movies. Even cartoons have given the story a retelling; who could forget the animated classic of "Scrooge McDuck"? It's hard to believe that despite so many adaptations from childhood cartoons to movies with Jim Carrey, many people are not familiar with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. The many people who do know this story, however, make it even more difficult to stage: the production must put a unique, and memorable twist on it, or else be lost in faded memory of Productions Past. In this challenge, Dennis Garnhum’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol succeeds marvelously. With the expert use of music and the ensemble cast, the creation of a winter wonderland on stage, and grounding performances, the production captures the spirit of Christmas–or three Christmases!
“I wanted to create a spectacle–a holiday event overflowing with surprises,” says director Dennis Garnhum. In this he succeeds, and in one of the most effective ways he does so is through the use of christmas carols throughout the show. Utilizing its large ensemble cast the production features many songs used to transition scenes and set the mood. The show starts with an eerie rendition of Silent Night over the grave of Jacob Marley setting the haunted tone of the graveyard perfectly. In another scene a large ensemble cast sings and is choreographed in a lively, bursting with energy, rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Being a stage show does not prevent this production from reaching for the clouds in special effects. The snow, which periodically falls throughout the play, is the start to creating a magical winter mood. The pièce-de-résistance of the winter atmosphere happens at the top of act two. At this time in the play, Scrooge is traveling with the ghost of Christmas Present, and they go to see his nephew Freddy. Amazingly, when the curtains open, actors start skating right onstage!. The scene is playful, and beautiful blocked. It captures the wonder of winter and is a stand out in the production for its ingenuity.
With all this spectacle, it is important to note that A Christmas Carol remains grounded in its fantastic performances. Benedict Campbell is the perfect Ebenezer Scrooge; he can play the mean old grouch at the beginning, the fearful, chastened man with the ghosts, and the joyous man of hope at the end. Also worth mentioning is Sean Arbuckle’s Bob Cratchit. Earnest, kind, and at times heartbreaking, the performance captures the audience as well as any element of spectacle.
A Christmas Carol is a holiday staple, and while it can be seen adapted on any screen, or the book read in the comfort of one’s own home I would encourage people to go see this production. Garnhum delivers on his promise and creates not just a show, but an engaging holiday experience. A Christmas Carol is playing at the Grand Theatre until Dec 31st. For more information, click here