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How does “A Christmas Carol” manage to pull us in every time? Charles Dickens published his tale on December 19th, 1843, nearly 166 years ago today. Since then, we’ve seen Scrooge reinvented by Bill Murray, Vanessa Williams, George C. Scott, Fred Flintstone, and soon, Jim Carrey.
On Saturday, the annual holiday run of the Actors Theatre version, now in its 18th season, officially kicked off, and it was a spectacular, funny, sweet reminder that “A Christmas Carol” still has a lot to say – and “bah, humbug” is the least of it.
A tale that’s constantly being re-imagined, “A Christmas Carol” is about another kind of rebirth: the do-over. We root for Scrooge to be shaken out of his complacency and act with a new sense of decency. When he gets his second chance, the rest of us stop thinking, if only momentarily, about to-do lists and work deadlines, and resolve to do more for others.
This year, “A Christmas Carol” is particularly timely, with its scenes of homeless people and adults struggling to find work, even more commonplace problems in the London of Dickens’ time.
A faithful re-telling of the story, this musical version features some marvelous stagecraft and effects: Marley’s Ghost descending from the rafters; Scrooge’s doorknocker coming eerily to life; the enormous, ghastly face of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Perfectly integrated into the Victorian-era setting, the musical numbers allow different performers to introduce their characters, including the always-funny Ben Tyler as Mr. Fezziwig, and David Barker as a comic, manic Christmas Present. Kim Bennett brings a more modern interpretation and a calculated coldness to the part of Scrooge until his resistance is finally chipped away.
Playwright Michael Grady and Playwright/Director Matthew Wiener co-wrote this musical version, with Alan Ruch as Composer and Musical Director. It’s a glorious production, one of the jewels of the season, and the top-notch performances are nearly all by local actors and talents. The play runs through December 24th at the Herberger.
A warning to parents: lots of families with children attended the performance I saw, but some of the effects may be too scary for small children.