Today's photo prompt is "your favorite Christmas movie," but since I wrote about Christmas movies exactly one year ago, I thought I would center on Christmas plays, since I've now seen several of them in the past two weeks.
What would the world have done if Charles Dickens had never written "A Christmas Carol"? What would we call a mean, miserly person if there had never been a "Scrooge"?
Over the years I have seen the story played by humans, children, Disney characters, muppets and I don't know what all. And when you think of it, most of the holiday productions that we see are some variation on the classic Dickens theme. Christmas is coming. There is a curmudgeon bah-humbugging around, something magical happens, frequently involving a child (or a dog), the chains of curmudgeonhood melt away and it's "God bless us every one" and a happy holiday dinner at the end. Sometimes it's not as obvious, but I'm thinking of a movie where a corporation is foreclosing on a widower's house at Christmas time because it is going to turn the quaint little town into a big housing development. The widower is an outcast, but in the end, the town comes to the aid of him and his child (after the child runs away and everyone has to hunt for him), and the developer decides to move his housing deveopment elsewhere. God bless us every one.
In the past three weeks, I have reviewed six shows, three of which were A Christmas Carol. (And believe it or not, I still like the show.) The three productions were quite different from one another.
The first was A Christmas Carol by the Davis Musical Theater company, with our friend Steve Isaacson as Scrooge. This particular version of the story was a musical written for Radio City and a Madison Square Garden spectacular in New York for ten years or so.
I was taken aback when I first saw it, because I had not seen the TV version with Kelsey Grammar. I couldn't understand why there were scandily clad Rockettes in Dickens' London, why people talked about Coca Cola, or why the traditionally sepulchral Ghost of Christmas yet to come took off her robes and became a sparkly ballerina.
In this production, the music (which I found forgettable) overshadowed the actual story, so there was never a chance, for example, to get into the pains of Bob Cratchitt shivering over his tiny candle in Scrooge's office (we never have an office scene, since all action happens on the streets of London because there is too much dancing to get in), or to feel empathy for his family (which only has two children, not the traditional five). Fortunately Scrooge's "rebirth" is as moving and touching, however.
While the show was OK, I missed the "real" Christmas Carol.
The Woodland Opera House presented Investigating Carol, which is not a version of A Christmas Carol per se, but the story of a small theater company rehearsing a production of A Christmas Carol.
This is perhaps the funniest Christmas show I have seen in a long time. Mike Maples is the actor Larry, who plays Scrooge. There is a bit of Barrymore about him, and he continually rewrites the Dickens lines to make a socially relevant statement, whether it works for the Dickens story or not.
While the first act is exposition and supposed rehearsal for the show, Act 2, like Noises off is mostly excerpts from the actual production of A Christmas Carol where just about anything that can go wrong does and it is one belly laugh after another.
Driving home from that show, still giggling about many of the things we had just watched, I wondered how I would react to the "real" Christmas Carol when I reviewed it the next night at the Sacramento Theatre Company.
I need not have worried. I love the STC production, which is now going on hiatus for five years. It is a musical, with music commissioned by STC 25 years ago (it has now been produced all over the country). Matt K. Miller is my favorite Scrooge and this year I found it very emotional because Tiny Tim was played by Matt's 4 year old son, Max. That little kid was as professional as the rest of the cast, knew all the words to all the songs, and his "God bless us, every one" rang out loud and clear and could be heard in the back of the house.
This production uses more of Dickens' actual words and the music flows beautifully. The costumes are lush and when the show ends, you really feel that you've had the full dose of the Dickens Christmas classic.
Especially if it is the third time you've seen the show in 3 weeks!!!