Friday, November 25, 2016

A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie Theater

Perfect night at the Big G.
As I headed to the Guthrie Theater for A Christmas Carol , the first snow of the season began to fall. Snow and a marvelous Christmas Carol: what a beautiful start to the Christmas season!

Walking into the theater, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the set. A Victorian London street, two-story buildings, frosted shop windows, and artistic drifts of snow on the stage all made me wonder if the theater ever offers photo ops on stage. Wouldn't that make a great Christmas card?

When the impressive set (designed by Walt Spangler) opened up to show the two-story interior of Scrooge's house, I was delighted. It's amazing to see a theater with world-class resources use them so wonderfully. Every single aspect of this production is top-notch, from set, lights and sound, costumes, wigs and the amazing cast.

J.C. Cutler (Ebenezer Scrooge) and Robert O. Berdahl (Jacob Marley).
Photos by Dan Norman.
Director Joe Chvala keeps the show moving along at a good pace. The play runs a brisk two hours including one intermission. He is a master of misdirection, which keeps the ghosts' appearance delightfully surprising.

The story itself is as classic as ever. Crispin Whittell's script includes all the classic lines you expect to hear, without making them sound hackneyed. The cast makes the most familiar and even ridiculous-seeming characters feel like real people. The cast-sung interludes of classic carols range from heartbreakingly plaintive to joyful (and triumphant. Whaaaaaat!).

Scrooge in a rare moment of frivolity.
The whole cast is excellent, and I was so excited by the racially diverse cast. Looking at recent Christmas Carol cast lists, it appears to be a new development this year. Nearly a third of the actors are actors of color, and it's great to see so many of the new faces belong to performers I've seen and enjoyed at other local theaters (such as Eric Sharp, Ryan Colbert, Meghan Kriedler, and the amazing Regina Marie Williams).

J.C. Cutler is a perfectly unpleasant Scrooge from the start. Robert O. Berdahl is a terror as Jacob Marley, with a Medusa-like wig. Though they are not specifically noted in the program, the Guthrie's wig shop does a great job as usual, particularly in helping the actors to distinguish between the multiple characters they portray. And the costumes, by Mathew J. LeFebvre, are gorgeous, particularly The Ghost of Christmas Past, which Tracey Maloney wore to death.

Scrooge's bird's-eye-view of his life is touching, funny, and heartwarming. At the end of the play, it feels like a benediction not just on the world of the play, but on all of us, when Tiny Tim says, "God bless us, everyone!" And I begin to understand why people revisit it year after year.

It's truly a gift to sit in a packed theater with so many families and children, and to hear and feel the appreciation the audience has for the spectacle--and for theater.