Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
This year's A Christmas Carol is
Also see our review of Separating the Men from the Bull
By Rick Fournier
In the lobby of the Guthrie Theater at the third performance of the current production of A Christmas Carol, the 28th annual staging, a diminutive mother squatted down in front of her tiny children and demonstrated for them how they could cover their eyes with their hands during the scary parts of the play. The children dutifully rehearsed the exercise and laughed aloud at this impromptu game of peek-a-boo. Then the mother assured them that in the funny parts they could laugh as loud as they liked. Since they were already laughing they didn't need to rehearse. I'm sure they laughed aplenty watching this colorful, high energy production which is chuck full of song, dance and story.
Like many of the other children in the lobby, these two will likely be back to see the Dickens classic again and again at this flagship theater of Minnesota, and those two extremes, the scary parts and the funny parts, will continue to form the basis of this great story of moral redemption.
One wonders if there will ever be another production of Carol with such a strong emphasis on music, however. This, according to Anita Ruth, the musical director this year and last, is quite deliberate and, in the view of this reviewer, quite successful, though I must admit that when I looked at the list of songs to be sung I had the sinking feeling we would be in the theater until midnight. Not so, for by 10:45 we were all standing and cheering as the cast took their bows. I don't know about the rest of the audience, but I couldn't believe how quickly the time had flown by.
There are two elements essential to a successful production: one is ensemble, the quality of a group of actors working together as one smooth intermeshed unit, and the other is rhythm, a sense that the play is clicking along right on schedule telling the story that has to be told and yet providing enough time for the little touches that allow the characters to develop fully before our eyes. This production is very strong on both counts and adds a third as well: a strong sense of joy which emanated from the stage from the moment of the opening carol "Welcome Yule," sung by a quartet of actors who take a number of parts and are accompanied by a solo violin, the only instrument used on the stage.
A Christmas Carol is a sprawling piece and yet the scenes of conflict, domestic life, time travel with various ghosts, dancing and holiday celebration swirl from the stage with an amazing degree of energy. If this level of energy is maintained throughout the run of the show, which will now play through December 28th, audiences, young and old, will be delighted.
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens and adapted by Barbara Field, at the Guthrie mainstage through December 28. For ticket and performance information, call 612-377-2224 or visit www.guthrietheater.org.
Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Twin Cities area