For 31 seasons Alliance Theatre has entertained Atlanta with its lush, elaborate production of Charles Dickens’ classic tale “A Christmas Carol.”
As we all know, Covid has cast its pale face on almost all aspects of society and human interaction. But rather than squash the Alliance (which Scrooge would enjoy), the intrepid theatre has pivoted: It has produced an entirely reimagined play with new staging directed by Leora Morris, a new adaptation by David H. Bell, stunning costumes by Mariann Verheyen, and a re-conceived set by Tony winner Todd Rosenthal. The show will run through Christmas Eve, Dec. 24.
I noticed a subtle but telling difference in the ambience of the proceedings: a lack of warmth, almost a barrenness pervades the play, especially in the first act. We must remember that Dickens published his story in 1843, and he certainly noticed that many people were experiencing really hard times.
For the first time in the Alliance production, we see a character, Mr. Watkins (Neal Ghant) being arrested to be thrown into debtor’s prison. This happened a lot in those times; but we’ve never before seen it in the show. This is not kid’s stuff.
Please don’t think I’m suggesting that the new “Christmas Carol” is in any way a downer; it’s not. But in its own observant way, the production shows us that desperate times are a palpable thing. Many people are hurting now, and they were hurting in the Christmas cold of London in 1843.
We know the story: Ebenezer Scrooge, rich and successful, has rejected the notion that kindness and generosity are in any way serious values; he doesn’t see people as human beings, but rather as transactional entities. This is scary stuff, and in some ways frighteningly current, sorry to say.
But he changes, and perhaps that is the main lesson and hope of “A Christmas Carol”–that it’s never too late to change or redeem oneself.
Scrooge is played for the first time by Andrew Benator, one of Atlanta’s finest actors. He’s been in the show before, usually as Jacob Marley. But he’s clearly ready for Scrooge; he has real presence and concentration, and even with dozens of actors around him, music, and giant puppets, he easily dominates the evening. His Act II transformation is a joyous thing to behold. (No spoilers here; the story is well-known.)
There are some 20 actors in the play, and almost all of them play multiple parts, and are also in the Ensemble. Then there are the understudies, several of whom are also in the Ensemble. So you see that “A Christmas Carol” is by far the biggest show in town. (I’m not counting Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” which also has a gigantic cast.)
Perhaps the high point of the show (certainly the most theatrical) is the visitation of the ghosts. It’s a tribute to Dickins and the talent of the actors that we are still breathlessly engaged as the ghosts of Christmases Past (Rhyn McLemore), Present (Eugene H. Russell, IV, who enhances every play he’s in), and Future (Lyndsay Ricketson) draw back the curtain and reveal the false values by which Scrooge has lived his life.
In a cast full of talented actors, I’ll mention Caleb Clark (Fred and Young Scrooge), Christopher L. Morgan (Bob Cratchit), Neal Ghant (Mr. Fezziwig and others), and Chloe Gia Bremer (Tiny Tim and the Child Fred) as particularly fine. There is music (music director Greg Matteson, composer/orchestrator Kendall Simpson) and dancing and spectacle.
Most of all there is the rebirth of love and joy in Ebenezer Scrooge; happily, this joy is infectious. I wouldn’t miss “A Christmas Carol.”
For tickets and details, visit alliancetheatre.org.