A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas
Lyric Arts Main Street Theatre - Anoka, MN
(photos courtesy of Traynor photography)
BWW Reviews: The Guthrie Theater and Lyric Arts Present Two Different Versions of the Heartwarming A CHRISTMAS CAROL
by Jill Schafer
Charles Dickens' novella A Christmas Carol has become a staple of holiday traditions. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that this classic story can currently be seen on multiple stages* in the Twin Cities. The biggest of these is the Guthrie Theater; this is the 40th year that the Guthrie has produced A Christmas Carol (I have seen one quarter of those productions). I think it's safe to say this is one of their most popular shows every year, with many families incorporating it into their annual traditions. Lyric Arts is also producing the show on their Main Street Stage in Anoka. I was lucky enough to see these two different interpretations of this classic story on backto- back nights. And while I do have a clear favorite between the two, it's really unfair to compare them too closely. Both are entertaining and creative interpretations of Charles Dickens' heartwarming story about the rich-in-money poor-in-friends businessman who learns through the visitation of four ghosts that it's better to be kind than rich.
Unlike the Guthrie, Lyric Arts does not have a 40-year tradition of producing A Christmas Carol, but this year is producing a steampunk version of the classic. What is steampunk you might ask? It seems to involve a lot of gears and machinery and clockwork. And it makes for a darker, grittier, more sinister Dickensian world (although with some silly humorous moments that don't quite match the overall tone). Working from an adaptation by Michael Wilson that focuses more on the ghost aspect of the story, director Daniel Ellis and his team have created a version of A Christmas Carol that's spooky, wacky, and fun to look at, but not as warm-hearted as other versions.
There are some familiar things about this version, including a crotchety Ebeneezer Scrooge (an effective Richard Brandt) and a chorus of children, although they're a little dirtier and more ragged in this version. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are played by the same actors as play people Scrooge encounters in his waking life, people who owe him money, which makes the ghostly visitations seem more like a dream (like Dorothy dreaming that the farmhands are the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion). The ghosts all have elements of steampunk, particularly the Ghost of Christmas Past - a life-size windup mechanical doll (Christy Nix does a great job with the mechanical movements). The steampunk element is also brought in with the silent chorus of three women and a man in top hat who dance across the stage in a mechanical robot sort of way (choreography by Hannah Weinberg). The set and costumes are really quite cool and pull off the steampunk look in a way that's fun and interesting to look at (set by Sadie Ward and costumes by Stephanie Mueller).
Lyric Arts' A Christmas Carol is a little bizarre and unexpected, especially seen right after the Guthrie's familiar version. It feels a little like that nightmare you might have from a bit of undigested beef or uncooked potato. But the steampunk ghost angle is an interesting one, and this story is so rich there's room for many versions (playing weekends through December 21).
A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas at Lyric Arts
Erin Nagel / November 26, 2014
Over the last year, Lyric Arts has proven taking risks doesn’t scare them. These risks have included taking on their biggest production to date in Young Frankenstein. And staging productions for two shows some would view as controversial for a community theatre, RENT and The Laramie Project. So it should come as no surprise that Lyric Arts is taking another risk with their newest production, A Christmas Carol. Instead of presenting the Dickens’ classic as many have come to know they have instead produced a Steam punk version of the holiday classic.
I have heard of Steam punk, but I’ll admit I had to rely on Google to explain exactly what it was. If you’re not familiar with Steam punk it is a science fiction sub-genre usually set in the Victorian Era. It plays up the industrial and invention side of this time period. Especially with the advances in steam technology. When I first heard this was the direction Director Daniel Ellis and his creative team had chosen for this production, I thought it was bit odd. But after seeing the show, I realized the brilliance in this choice. Lyric Arts wants to differentiate themselves from the production of A Christmas Carol performed at the Guthrie for the last 40 years. Plus, they are continuing to carve their identity as a destination for exceptional theatre in the suburbs.
Scenic Designer Sadie Ward had the task of designing a set that could easily serve as several locations and easily found the solution. The intricate design in the staircase and Scrooge’s office is gorgeous. The period costumes designed by Stephanie Mueller are beautiful. The attention to detail to make sure every piece is accurate to the style of the period is immaculate. Personally, I loved the props used by the Spirit of Christmas Past and the Spirit of Christmas Future as well as the Watchworks vendor. Nate Otto did an incredible job creating the watchworks vendor’s cart complete with working valves and steam production which was a great effect when seen from the audience. Also, the wind up key on the Spirit of Christmas Past that completes the character as a vintage wind up doll is a great use of technology.
A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas runs at Lyric Arts through December 21. This show is the perfect addition to your family’s holiday traditions.