The holiday season often involves families flocking to tree farms, making gingerbread cookies, and binging various Hallmark movies. However Minnesotans have another very robust tradition that they continue to do year after year and that is attending the annual production of A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie theater. This Charles Dickens classic is currently playing it’s 44th year at the Guthrie theater, entertaining families for generations through out the holiday season. It’s the perfect time of year to see it, especially in Minnesota where we just experienced our first big snowfall of the season. This was also my first time seeing the production live at the Guthrie and at any theater for that matter.
Since it was my first time seeing it, what better place to see it then at the Guthrie? Whether you’re a fan of the Disney version, or Muppets or the original, there is something still truly magical about this production.Artistic Director Joseph Haj describes it perfectly when he said that “A Christmas Carol is about the most beautiful thing one can see in the theater. It’s an evergreen reminder of our best selves, and that’s why people flood to it. When we talk about creating community through the theater, this show acts as a gateway. Its emotional core connects with patrons young and old.”
A Christmas Carol is the timeless tale a greedy businessman by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge who believes that making money is the most important thing. While others frolic in holiday cheer, Scrooge believes Christmas is a humbug. On the evening before Christmas, he is visited by his old business partner, Jacob Marley, who died seven years prior on Christmas Eve. The ghost tells him that he will be visited that night during three spirits who will show him the way to a better life. The Ghost of Christmas Past visits him to take him back his unhappy childhood, his happy apprenticeship, and the end of his engagement to a lovely woman that ended due to his growing desire for money. Soon after he meets the The Ghost of Christmas present to show him the current lives of those around Scrooge including his nephew Fred along with his clerk Bob Cratchit, who celebrate the holidays as a joyful time. Scrooge is then visited by the last of the three ghosts, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come who shows him what he will leave behind after he passes. Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning with a freight however also a changed man who has a new purpose in life and that is to celebrate the season with holiday spirit and merriment.
While some may think this story is dull, boring and old, the Guthrie manages to still breath a fresh life into a rather dingy story. This version, adapted by Crispin Whittell and directed by Lauren Keating, is led by a powerhouse troupe of performers who never once let you slip into thinking how dated the story may be. It still is rich in content and material and the creative team does justice in it with the beautiful set that looms over the audience. The set, designed by Walt Spangler, reminds me of a street in a Hollywood film studio that is permanently constructed for multiple scenes of a TV show. It’s completely three dimensional from the cobblestone pavement to the snow on the street lights. You could tell me it stays up all year and is never taken down and I’d believe you. The set also serves a greater purpose of making Mathew J. LeFebvre’s beautifully constructed costumes pop out even more. The show itself is visually unbelievable along with the three ghosts that fly in for a truly magical sight.
The cast helps make this old tale see more new and shiny with their brilliant portrayal of various iconic roles. Stand out roles include Ryan Colbert who plays a Young Scrooge and perfectly captures the evolution of how Scrooge became to be such an old...well...scrooge. Kendall Anne Thompson plays the Ghost of Christmas Past and is angelic, mysterious and keeps the story light hearted with her presence. Lamar Jefferson plays Ghost of Christmas Future with a vivacious chortle of a laugh which brought many smiles and laughs across the theater.
Nathaniel Fuller plays the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge and with an outstanding achievement of making this year his 30th production of A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie. In the past he has played roles including Jacob Marley, Topper, Fred, Charles Dickens, Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Bob Cratchit, Old Joe and more. This is his sixth time playing Scrooge along with the fact that he has understudied the role over 22 times so you can assume he knows the show well and that showed on stage. Even after being in the show for 30 years he still captures the essence of the show with a full circle and well rounded character that goes through a complete 180 by the end of the show.
Just when you thought this show couldn’t be more smiles to families faces and a warmth to your heart, the Guthrie manages to step it up again. The Guthrie produced a “Relaxed Performance” back in November of this show. A “Relaxed Performance” is similar to a “Sensory-Friendly” performance. Often we see productions like this for families who have loved ones who have autism or may suffer learning differences and challenges that would keep them from attending the theater. The performance included a reduced volume of loud noises and effects, eliminating strobe lights, keeping the house lights on and having a more relaxed attitude toward sound and movement in the audience. Bravo Guthrie. Bravo!
A Christmas Carol is a beautiful and heartwarming classic that really shapes what the holiday season is all about. It features a local cast (whoot!), a fabulous set design and brilliant costumes that fully immerse the audience into a 2 hour holiday swirl of delight.
A Christmas Carol plays now through December 29 in the Wurtele Thrust Stage at the Guthrie Theater.
*Photos by Dan Norman