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Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

a Holiday Show
CATEGORY :
by Tony Brown, adapted from the novel by Charles Dickens

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 3226

SHOWING : December 04, 2008 - December 21, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Full of music, laughter, love and family, this show is designed to put you in the holiday spirit! We bring it back every year as a gift to you and yours.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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So, What Is the Opposite of "Humbug?"
by Dedalus
Friday, December 19, 2008
5.0
On Sunday the 7th, I officially ushered in the holiday season. I cleaned all the pine straw off my roof, hung up my sparkly big-carbon-footprint lights, and trekked Tavernward for the first of several “Christmas Carol” adaptations that will cross my schedule over the next three weeks.

All things considered, it’s a grand start.

So, what is it about this roasted Dickens chestnut that just doesn’t get old for me? I could probably cite a dozen reasons, none of which would be relevant to your experience with the story (and, perhaps, as the season glides on, I will cite a few). For now, though, I’ll adopt a “Why ask Why?” attitude, and talk about the Shakespeare Tavern’s side trip into Dickensian London.

Adapted and directed by Tony Brown, this adaptation takes a “Nicholas Nickleby” approach – a troupe of “storytellers” share narration duties and slip into and out of a multitude of characters with a flick of a costume piece, an adjusted posture, an altered voice. The standard Tavern set has been decorated simply, but still with a Victorian flair. Live musicians carol us (and each other), and the story flows like a stream of stuffing from a goose.

There was hardly a missed note all evening – even when the notes were supposed to “miss,” they “missed” just right. And anchoring the entire affair was Drew Reeves’ umpty-umpth foray into Scrooge. This is a Scrooge who takes enormous delight in his miserliness, almost a lip-smacking joy in making peoples’ lives miserable. It’s an approach I hadn’t seen before, and it worked. It added a new layer of subtext to the “Christmas Past” scenes, in that we see not Scrooge’s regret on how he treated everyone, but his regret in the joy he took in that maltreatment.

The storytellers are universally skilled, creating sharp characterizations and voices that are as vivid as they are accurate. None stand out from each other, all stand out when compared to other ensembles. Just to give credit where it’s due, good job to Andrew Houchins, Paul Hester, Rivka Levin, Becky Cormier Finch, Matt Felten, Kirk Harris Seaman, Mary Ruth Ralston, and Clarke Weigle. They also carol very well together. If the number of songs at the top of the show come across as so much “padded fill,” well, I could listen to even more.

To me, good theatre is always a sequence of moments, a string of emotional points-in-time that add up to a compelling whole. Let me close by citing a moment that was profoundly simple, yet profoundly moving. While visiting his past, Scrooge watches the love of his life say good-bye. She hugs a coldly unresponsive young Scrooge, then kisses him on the cheek. After she turns and walks away, Young Scrooge wistfully holds a hand up to the place on his cheek she has just kissed. In perfect synchronization, Old Scrooge mirrors the gesture. Simple. Moving. And Dickens to the core.

I daresay other “Christmas Carols” will take a more traditional approach (or, in the Alliance’s case, more grandiose). I daresay I will find them equally compelling.

But, to start the season with this Storyteller’s adaptation is to remind us that, especially to us skeptics and cynics, Story is the real appeal of this season, of this tale, of this venue.

This production is anything but Humbug!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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Pretty as Mrs. Cratchit’s plum pudding
by OctoberSundance
Friday, December 12, 2008
4.5
Being called a Scrooge is rivaled only by Grinch as the biggest Christmastime insult. True, both characters eventually become enveloped with the seasonal spirit, but for a while, their opposition to Yuletide festivities is so extreme that association with them should be enough to send any disgruntled tree decorator or holiday shopper running to empty his pockets for the nearest Salvation Army Santa in a gesture of “goodwill toward men.” But even if you’re feeling a little irritable and stingy this December, à la Mr. Scrooge, you’re still bound to find something to enjoy in the New American Shakespeare Tavern’s original production of "A Christmas Carol," with “original” being the key word.

This play is a purist’s dream; every word of dialog is taken directly from Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel. Everybody and their brother already knows the plot, but adaptor and director Tony Brown puts a spin on the staging by cutting down the cast to a handful of narrators and one cranky Ebenezer Scrooge, played to perfection by Tavern staple Drew Reeves. Props and costumes are kept to a minimum, placing most of the emphasis on the author’s words as they convey the story’s power and beauty. Brown also makes the decision to weave music into his production; all of the narrators are talented singers who blend gorgeous harmonies, and a few even show off their abilities on instruments like the violin (Mary Ruth Ralston) and guitar (Becky Cormier Finch) during key scenes throughout the show.

The performances are great with a handful of standouts, namely Paul Hester’s gentle Bob Cratchit, Rivka Levin’s bawdy Cockney charwoman and Matt Felten’s adorable Tiny Tim. Of course, the show belongs to Reeves, and it’s easy to simultaneously despise and pity his lonely Scrooge, especially as he begs the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (possibly played by a true spirit, as no actor claims this role) to alter his proposed future. His onstage cohorts back him up with rapid-fire dialog and carols both old and original; “Carol of the Bells” at the start of Act II is particularly beautiful. A few of the jokes fall flat, and a line or two may get lost in the shuffle of a scene change, but overall, it’s a seamless enactment delivered by performers who truly love and respect the material.

The differences between this and a more traditional staging of "A Christmas Carol" may leave some audience members feeling confused, but a little post-show reflection is all it takes for Brown’s production to reveal its true magic and appeal. And if you aren’t at least charmed by this clever take on an old classic . . . well, then “bah! humbug!” to you too. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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