Inspired by his visit to the Field Lane Ragged School, where half-starved, illiterate street children received their very limited education, Charles Dickens wrote The Christmas Carol in less than two months. His novella was published on December 19, 1843, just in time for Christmas. Dicken’s life-long concern for the treatment of the poor and the story’s transformation of a miserly recluse into a benevolent altruist had a powerful impact on the society of his day. It is said that contributions to the poor increased substantially after the publication of his book. In fact, A Christmas Carol sold out in weeks after its publication and has never been out of print.
Given the Victorian era’s upsurge in interest about all things Christmas – including the Christmas tree, which was first introduced by Queen Victoria in England – Dickens had a waiting audience all set to read his work, which has been translated into multiple languages and adapted many times to film, stage, opera, ballet, animation, and even music and mime. In fact, it was only a month after publication when A Christmas Carol was produced on the London stage. By the end of February 1844, there were at least eight rival theatrical productions of the story. It is no small wonder that Dicken’s classic continues to inspire and entertain people today.
In this 2017 Christmas season, the Glendale Centre Theatre is currently presenting its fifty-second anniversary production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. It’s again time to visit miserly Ebenezer Scrooge of “Bah, humbug” fame – the original misanthrope who simply hates the holidays. In fact, the term Scrooge has become synonymous with a miser who hoards his riches. It’s Christmas Eve, and Scrooge (Tom Killam) has an unexpected visitor. Jacob Marley (Shea Taylor), now deceased and his former partner in their moneylending operation, shows up in Scrooge’s bedroom dragging chains and money boxes. He has a message for Scrooge.
Soon, Scrooge is visited by Christmas Past (Amy Gillette), who reminds him just how lonely he was as a child and how happy he was during Christmas parties thrown by his kind boss and mentor. Christmas Past also reminds Scrooge of his first and only love, a love he threw away in his search for gold. But the spirits aren’t done with him yet. Next he is visited by Christmas Present (Tim Dietlein), a jolly gentleman who gives Scrooge the chance to observe his merrymaking nephew, his gentle clerk Bob Cratchit (James Betteridge), Bob’s poor but strangely content family, and Bob’s sweet but very sick crippled son Tiny Tim (Bowie Bundlie). As Scrooge begins to grow in understanding, he is visited by Christmas Future (Luke Matthew Simon), who offers him the greatest blow yet – his death, mourned by no one. His meager belongings are stolen and sold for a few pennies, and he ends up in a gloomy, untended grave. This is the moment of clarity for Scrooge, and he realizes that change is in order.
Produced and directed by Tim Dietlein (who also acts in the show here and there), A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a delightful and highly entertaining reminder about the meaning of Christmas. The ensemble cast – led by a fearsome Tom Killam as Scrooge – perform brilliantly in this hugely popular classic. Amidst swirling fog and flashing lights, the ghosts appear and disappear as Scrooge’s bed twirls across the stage. But not only is the story a charming enticement to get ready for the holidays – it is also enhanced beautifully by the caroling and dancing crowds (musical director Tyler Stouffer). As always, Angela Manke’s costumes are stunning (and “sort of” from the skin out). Paul Reid’s lighting, Alex Mackyol’s sound, and Nathan Milisavljevich’s special effects make this a production not to be missed. A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a family-friendly show which will entrance everyone from seven to seventy – and beyond.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL runs through December 24, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. (12/8, 12/14, 12/15, 12/18, 12/19, 12/20, 12/21, 12/22), at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. (12/2, 12/9, 12/23), at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. (12/10, 12/17, 12/23), and at 2 p.m. (12/24). The Glendale Centre Theatre is located at 324 N. Orange Street, Glendale, CA 91203. Tickets range from $22 to $32. For information and reservations, call 818-244-8481 or go online.