Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

A Christmas Carol
Guthrie Theater
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Waitress, Coney Island Christmas, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Kit's review of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley


Kendall A. Thompson, Ansa Akyea, Leah Anderson,
Ryan Colbert, Emily Gunyou Halaas, Nathaniel Fuller,
Kris L. Nelson, Meghan Kreidler, and Sophie Jones

Photo by Dan Norman
I recently wrote a review on a recent addition to the cannon of holiday shows (Coney Island Christmas), noting the abundance and wide range of those offerings. Today I am writing about the grandfather of them all, the Guthrie Theater's annual production of A Christmas Carol. It remains the most heartfelt, generous, eye-catching and full-voiced of them all. For 43 years running, the Guthrie has put Charles Dickens' classic tale of hope, redemption, and the joys of Christmas on stage. Seven years ago the current full-bodied adaptation by Crispin Whittell replaced an earlier adaptation by Barbara Field.

This is a huge show, with 17 principal actors, an adult ensemble of 12, as well as a children's ensemble of 12. When all 42 are on stage together—sometimes appearing almost instantly, as if an apparition—it is as if all humanity has blossomed, and the Wurtele's thrust stage, often too large for the plays set upon it, seems about to burst with feeling and vitality.

The oft-told story centers on the miscreant Ebenezer Scrooge, who despises Christmas as an excuse employees use to rob their employers by expecting to be paid for a day not worked. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley, deceased seven years, who has been condemned to walk the earth in chains for failing to do good in life. Marley warns Scrooge that his fate will be even worse, for Scrooge has lived more years, thus cast a longer chain. That night three ghosts haunt Scrooge's sleep, revealing to him in turn Christmases past, present and future. Scrooge becomes a changed man and embarks to right his many years of wrongs against his family and employees, particularly his pure-hearted clerk, Bob Cratchit.

With the publication of A Christmas Carol in 1843, Charles Dickens earned the sobriquet "the man who invented Christmas." Obviously, the holiday predates Dickens, but his romanticized depiction of its celebrations and, moreover, how it stirs the hearts of men and woman toward charity and forgiveness, actually pushed popular practice in that direction. The speech made by Scrooge's nephew Fred early in the play, trying to persuade his uncle of the many ways in which Christmas enriches him even though it does not place a profit in his pocket, serves as a template for all the good Christmas does for man and society. There is little emphasis on the holiday's origins as a Christian observance, with only the slight, albeit moving, reference by the crippled child Tiny Tim, to Jesus having healed the lame, harkening to the bible. Dickens passes over the holy and sacred to focus on a seemingly secular burst of good will, amends-making, generosity, feasting and gaiety. Dickens was, at heart, a social reformer, and he used Christmas as a model of how people should regard one another, not only on December 25, but, as the rehabilitated Scrooge vows, to "keep it all through the year". Reach out to help the unfortunate, and in the process you will become giddy with happiness. Christmas is the ultimate win-win.

The Guthrie's production makes the case for Dickens' argument on a large and beautiful scale. Lauren Keating, making her Guthrie directing debut, but working with a veteran creative team, has decorated this holiday tree with all the brilliant ornaments that have made it glow for 43 years, starting with the spectacular detailed settings designed by Walt Spangler, a storybook Dickens village (though set in the teaming city of London) come to life. Keating orchestrates the movement of cast members in and out of the setting, whether it be pop-up crowd scenes or the intimacy of dinner around the Cratchit family table. Matthew J. LeFebvre's costumes remain storybook wondrous, especially the brashly festive apparel worn at the Fezziwig's Christmas party, and the more stylish garb at Fred and Kitty's holiday gathering. Speaking of those party scenes, Matthew Steffens has enlivened them with brisk choreography, patterned on 19th century English social dancing, but with more showbiz finesse.

The cast know their places in the pageant and carry them out with conviction. Nathaniel Fuller played Ebenezer Scrooge several years ago and returns to the role, bringing a gravitas in the early going that evolves quite authentically in the course of his magical journey with the spirits, by the end as convincingly a giddy celebrant as he was a miscreant at the start. Kris L. Nelson returns as Scrooge's faithful, humble clerk Bob Cratchit, as kind and gentle a man as ever lived. He convinces us that he raises a toast to Scrooge, not out of meekness but out of genuine appreciation for even the smallest of favors. Meghan Kreidler conveys Mrs. Cratchit's maternal warmth as well as her anger toward her husband's selfish, slave-driving boss Scrooge. Having trampolined this season from Aldonza in Man of La Mancha to Euripides' Electra to salt of the earth Mrs. Cratchit, as well as serving as this production's dance captain, Kreidler continues to display her astonishing range.

Ryan Colbert presents Fred's bountiful heart, choosing to feel sorry for his hum-bugging uncle, rather than react to Scrooge's abuse with anger. However, Michael Curran-Dorsano comes across a bit hollow playing Scrooge as a young man, almost passively making the choice to align with Marley's obsession with profit. Jay Albright returns to the role of Fezziwig, young Scrooge's former employer who is a poster child for the inherent joy of celebrating Christmas. John Catron makes the ghost of Jacob Marley a fearsome specter, though makeup, costume and lighting contribute mightily to the performance. Likewise, all three of the ghosts that visit Scrooge make powerful impressions with their highly theatrical staged entrances. Most of these, and the other actors on stage, play multiple parts, giving each, for how briefly it appears, a heartfelt reading.

This production enhances its compelling narrative with a large serving of Christmas music, carols, and dance tunes drawn from the Victorian era, whether sung by carolers on the streets or played at holiday parties, which, along with Keith Thomas' atmospheric original music, add to its burnished glow of nostalgia and contribute to making A Christmas Carol a multidimensional holiday entertainment

Having returned to the Guthrie's A Christmas Carol after two years away, it seems to move more swiftly, still rich in detail and taking time for its merrily entertaining segments, but with nothing that seems spare. That is all for the good. Since my last visit, the part of Merriweather, Scrooge's mistreated housekeeper, has been re-named Mrs. Dilber and given less to do, and there is less of Fezziwig. Some of the dance sequences, while splendid as ever, seem not quite as long. Whether it is merely my own memory or a reality, A Christmas Carol packs so much narrative, entertainment, artistry and meaning into its two hour running time, one could hardly ask for more.

In some ways—and not to diminish the deep and sacred roots of the original Christmas story, the one told in churches around the world on Christmas eve—Dickens created his own Christmas origin tale, one that establishes its own reason for embracing all the good and hope the yuletide is intended to inspire. An annual retelling of Scrooge's fall and redemption can certainly serve to stem the constant encroachment of cynicism, prejudice and greed upon our better selves. And while the story can be told in far simpler manner, it is hard to imagine it in a more beautiful, joyous rendering than the Guthrie has given us these 43 years—and we hope, for many more to come.

A Christmas Carol continues at the Guthrie Theater's Wurtele Thrust Stage through December 30, 2017, at 618 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis MN. Tickets from $29.00 to $134.00. Seniors (65+) and full time College Students (with ID) - $3.00 and $6.00 discounts. Public Rush for unsold seats 15 - 30 minutes before performance, $25.00 - $30,00, cash or check only. Gateway tickets for eligible low income patrons, $5.00. For tickets call 612-377-2224 or go to GuthrieTheater.org.

Writer: Charles Dickens, adapted by Crispin Whittell; Director: Lauren Keating; Choreographer: Mathew Steffens; Set Design: Walt Spangler; Costume Design: Matthew J. LeFebvre; Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind, recreated by Ryan Connealy; Sound Design: Reid Rejsa; Original Music: Keith Thomas; Music Director: Raymond Berg; Dramaturg: Jo Holcomb; Vocal Coach: Lucinda Holshue; Casting Consultants: McCorkle Casting, Ltd.; Stage Manager: Michelle Hossle Assistant Stage Manager: Jason Clusman; Assistant Director: Tyler Michaels; Dance Captain (Meghan Kreidler), Costume Design Assistant: Lisa Jones.

Cast: Ansa Akyea (Ghost of Christmas Present/Bear), Jay Albright (Mr. Fezziwig/Bumble/Scrooge's Priest), Leah Anderson (Belle/Kitty), Katie Bradley (Deirdre Fezziwig/Sally), Aimee K. Bryant (Bunty/Mrs. Fezziwig), John Catron (Jacob Marley/Bull/Poulterer), Ryan Colbert (Fred/Daniel), Michael Curran-Dorsano (Young Scrooge), Nathaniel Fuller (Ebenezer Scrooge), Emily Gunyou Halaas (Mrs. Dilber/Mrs. Polkinghorne/Dora Fezziwig), Summer Hagen Daisy Fezziwig/Mabel), Charity Jones(Old Joe, Ebenezer Scrooge at select performances), Meghan Kreidler (Mrs. Cratchit), Benjamin Lohrberg (Dick Wilkins/Topper), Kris. L. Nelson (Bob Cratchit/Donald), Eric Sharp (Mr. Wimple/David/Belle's Husband/Ghost of Christmas Future), Kendall A. Thompson (Ghost of Christmas Past/Jane).

Children's Ensemble: Louisa Darr (Fanny), Ella Freeburg (Belinda), Sander L. Huynh-Weiss, Sophie Jones (Tiny Tim), Bella Lockhart (Martha), John Lutterman, Brooke Menne, Levi Reed, Ben Ross (Peter), Elena Ruch, Caroline Sierra, and Daniel Untiedt (Youngest Scrooge).

Adult Ensemble: Christian E. Alvarez, Rick Baustian, Julie Hatiestad, Jamila Joiner, Alec Leonard, T.J. Mayrand, Aamer Mian, Katie O'Halloran, Jacob Priesler, Emily Scinto, Lydia C. Wagner and Nik Whitcomb.


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