Wednesday, December 2, 2009

putting the carols back in a christmas carol

it's dec 2 already! i can't believe i haven't blogged about christmas yet. let me rectify that.

halifax gets scrooged with a song-filled take on the dickens classic a christmas carol at neptune, which i reviewed in CC this week.

in the interests of science, i took a broadway musical fan and an 8-year-old boy. the musical fan gave the songs a thumbs up and the boy admired the actors and was relieved scrooge wasn't too scary, not like jim carrey's semi-animated the grinch who stole christmas. the corpse-like creatures in that film freaked him out, but the ghastly spectacles in carol hit the right note.


Putting the carols back in A Christmas Carol
Over six weeks at the end of 1843, Charles Dickens hacked out a sugary tale of secular Christmas redemption. He was broke, his wife was pregnant again and he desperately needed to rebound from the blockbuster flop of his last novel, Martin Chuzzlewit.
A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, hit the streets Dec. 19. It was sold out by Christmas Eve and has never been out of print, being turned into illustrated stories, movies and plays.
After more than 160 years of mining the legendary story of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, we still can’t get enough of the great big Christmas pudding. Neptune Theatre has dropped the Prose and focused on the Carol side of it for A Christmas Carol: The Musical. It’s a lavish production, with all the fog and scarves you’d expect in Olde London, combined with a big — and big-voiced — cast.
Jon Osbaldeston does for Scrooge what Daniel Craig has done for that other British legend, James Bond: he goes back to the real-life basics of the original Bah-humbugger. There are no camp, over-the-top histrionics of a Grinchian bad man out to destroy Christmas. His cold, severe face rather betrays the deeper secret: a man in so much bitter pain that the sight of others singing causes him psychological discomfort. His life is justified to himself. Even as the spirits badger him, he sticks up for himself. Life’s been hard on me, so I’m hard on life, Scrooge seems to say.
When a shivering Bob Cratchit (Ian Gilmore) negotiates to take the whole of Christmas Day off, Scrooge argues against the annual pocket-picking of paying Cratchit not to work, and you can see his point. Cratchit convinces the old miser and skips off to be with his family. Scrooge stalks home to face the uncertain embraces of the spirits.
The entrance of Jacob Marley (Cliff Lejeune) is spectrally spectacular, and his chain-gang song gets Eric Hughes’s new and original musical side going as he warns Scrooge that his offences carry their own punishment.
This is the heart of the Carol: the characters are caricatures and we all know we’re heading to happy land, but it miraculously avoids being preachy.
Despite the ghosts prodding him to examine his life, it’s not the fear of eternal punishment that gets Scrooge to rethink his life. It’s not a desire to be good for goodness’s sake, nor to please any eternal being, that compels him to throw open the shutters in goofy joy on Christmas morning. The redemption is purely self-centered: Scrooge discovers he will be happier if he makes other people happier.
And that’s because unlike so many others, Dickens bets high on humanity. The Carol only works if we believe, despite how awful life can be, that the joy available right here on Earth is an abundance.
It’s not about what will happen in the next life — it’s about what you’re missing in this one.
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