By Manning Harris
You may wonder how a story published in 1843 in England could still resonate with such unerring theatrical vim, vigor, and authenticity with audiences in 2015, as it does in Alliance Theatre’s current version, running through Dec. 27.
Director Rosemary Newcott has an answer for you: “Scrooge has rejected the notion that kindness is in any way a serious value…” Actor David de Vries, who plays Scrooge, has said that at the start of the play Scrooge “doesn’t see people as human beings, but rather as transactional entities.”
However, Ms. Newcott continues: “The main lesson and hope of “A Christmas Carol” is that it’s never too late to change…It’s never too late to redeem oneself.” These metaphysical themes thread their way through the story and ultimately transcend the large and lush trappings of the Alliance’s legendary Christmastime show.
So with the genius of Charles Dickens and the crème de la crème of Atlanta actors right in front of you, it’s a safe bet that this opulent, funny, moving entertainment will delight you. And it’s beautiful to look at: D Martyn Bookwalter’s set and Mariann Verheyen’s costumes are gorgeous. Only the Alliance, with its large stage and resources, could pull this off with such style in our fair city.
Of course they’ve had a lot of practice: This is the 26th year, if I’ve counted right, that “A Christmas Carol” has entertained Atlantans. That the company keeps it so fresh and vital is truly remarkable. This is the biggest show in town, with the possible exception of Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” and you can see both!
You know the story: Ebenezer Scrooge, miserly and miserable and determined to squash as many cheerful souls as possible, will in the end be transformed after a night of spectral visitations, forgive himself (this is important), and discover the long repressed joy in himself and those around him. Again, it’s a tribute to Dickens and those actors that we are still breathlessly engaged as the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future draw back the curtain and reveal the false values by which Scrooge has lived his life.
One more ghost: Scrooge’s former partner Marley, played by none other than Chris Kayser, starts the haunting reminiscences rolling. If you don’t know who Mr. Kayser is, welcome to Atlanta theatre.
I must take a moment to commend David de Vries’ playing of Scrooge. In a role that would be so easy for lesser actors to succumb to clichés, hackneyed playing, or mugging, de Vries is completely present every moment, in the moment, as actors say. When he starts having his joyful epiphanies, it’s quite moving because the actor is not faking it; his realizations are subtle and only at last become large and exultant. I was sitting very close to the stage and started to tear up. De Vries is an artist—a word that is vastly overused these days.
The cast, as I’ve said, is large and excellent: such fine players as Joe Knezevich, Neal Ghant, Bart Hansard, Randi Garza (an increasingly magnetic presence on Atlanta stages), Courtney Patterson, Eugene H. Russell IV, Elizabeth Diane Wells, Lowery Brown, Minka Wiltz, Je Nie Fleming, Shelli Delgado, Michael Stiggers, and Jaden Robinson as Tiny Tim. And that’s not all.
David H. Bell adapted the story for the stage; the music director is Michael Fauss; flying effects by D2 Flying Effects!
To paraphrase the Phantom, you may as well give in to the magic of the night. You can’t lose.
For tickets and information, visit Alliancetheatre.org.