by Sara G. Stephens
“In my mind, there’s no better way to jump-start my Christmas spirit than with a taste of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” I’ll take it any way I can get it–reading the story, watching the movie, or, my personal favorite, enjoying a live stage production.
The story explores the life of Ebenezer Scrooge, an old man, who is well-known for his miserly ways. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by a series of ghosts, starting with his old business partner, Jacob Marley. The three spirits that follow–the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come–show Scrooge how his mean behavior has affected those around him. At the end of the story he is relieved to discover that there is still time for him to change, and we see him transformed into a generous and kind-hearted human being.
Although written in 1845 as a commentary on the inequalities of wealth distribution in Victorian England, the lessons of the story retain a gripping relevance today, shedding light on a human tendency toward self-centeredness, ingratitude, and greed, with the mistaken belief that the outcome of such traits is happiness.
Wrapping the lessons around a holiday setting makes perfect sense at a time of year when kids focus their attention on crafting lengthy wish lists for Santa–and when we parents grumble about town as we fight traffic and crowds to fulfill those lists.
I took my two daughters, ages 12 and 8, and a friend to see “A Christmas Carol” at the Alley Theatre. My daughters had read children’s books of the story, and had seen various productions of films based on the novella. My older daughter’s friend, on the other hand, knew nothing of the story. I was curious to see everyone’s response to the play.
The Alley does a beautiful job of warming up its audience for its performances by decorating the lobby areas in harmony with the production of the day. On this day, the elevator doors opened to a visual feast of Christmas trees–each distinctly decorated–that lined every wall, filled the mid-level rotunda, and climbed up the sweeping red carpet staircase. The girls were spellbound with a Christmas enchantment that opened their hearts and fixed their eyes on the stage for the opening scene.
The costuming, music, choreography, and sound effects in this scene literally set the stage for the entire production. I say this not wanting to give away some of the surprises, which are well placed and well executed.
Casting for the performance was superb, with Jeffrey Bean delivering an outstanding, believable performance as Ebenezer Scrooge, a character who, despite his outrageous lack of compassion, elicits compassion from those who know something of the man’s past–a valuable lesson for kids in not judging a person unless you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. And of course, there’s the equally valuable lesson of redemption: even the most callous of people can be redeemed; there is hope for everyone.
John Feltch was a source of absolute merriment when he appeared onstage as Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s housekeeper, and was equally enjoyable as Jacob Marley.
Melissa Pritchett and David Rainey (ghost of Christmas past and ghost of Christmas present, respectively) each did an admirable job of entertaining the audience with their wit and playfulness as they escort Scrooge through critical, defining moments of his present and past. And we found the ghost of Christmas yet to come particularly captivating in terms of costuming and presentation (more surprises here).
Interestingly, each of my girls cited the same scene as being their favorite: the Christmas party (in Christmas present) hosted by Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (played by Jay Sullivan, who played the similarly affable character of Scrooge at age 21). All three of the kids were intrigued by the parlor games that served as entertainment at Victorian gatherings. More than this, they enjoyed immensely the dialogue between characters as they engaged in clever wordplay, especially when it came to their feelings about Scrooge.
As much as we can sing the praises of each lead actor’s performance in the Alley’s “A Christmas Carol,” it’s important to stress that this production’s delivery of holiday perfection is directly tied to all the details that go into it: the spirit-stirring music, dazzling costumes, and mood-evoking sets–not to mention the choreography of and performances by the entire cast of actors, including those who played Mr. Cratchit, the solicitors, Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, Fred’s wife Belle, and the ensemble of apparitions (which includes HFM favorite and Alley upcomer McKenna Marmolejo).
If you are at a loss for how to spark in your family the spirit of Christmas–the true spirit of Christmas–book your seats at the Alley today. You will leave the theater buzzing with conversation about the story, the performances, and the production well into the new year. And what better way to commence the new year than with the lifelong lessons of kindness, charity, and redemption?
“A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas”
Now through December 29, 2016
615 Texas Avenue
Houston, Texas 77002
Tickets from $34-$140
Purchase tickets online at http://www.alleytheatre.org
TIPS FOR YOUR THEATRE TRIP
The Alley theatre suggests this performance is suitable for children ages 6 and up. I agree with the recommendation, mostly based on the difficulty for younger kids’ sitting still and being able to remain engaged for this length of time in a performance of heavy dialogue, spoken in British accents that can be challenging at times for an untrained ear to understand. Some of the spirits and effects might prove to be somewhat dark and frightening to a younger audience.
Run time for the play is approximately 1 hour 47 minutes with one intermission. Snacks, beverages, and wine can be purchased in the lobby, but can not be taken back into the theatre. We chose to use this time to explore the Christmas trees in the lobby, which are perfect backdrops for photos.