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REVIEW: A Christmas Carol Strikes Back (Guthrie Theater)

The cast of the Guthrie Theater’s production of A Christmas Carol, now playing at the company’s Wurtele Thrust Stage in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Dan Norman.

The Guthrie Theatre’s 45th seasonal production of the A Christmas Carol creates a delightful, feel good show for all families.  The production is based on Crispin Whittell’s play adaption of the classic Charles Dickens’ story.  Director Lauren Keating has assembled a marvelous cast in this heartwarming story of redemption.

Whenever a show returns as regularly as this holiday hit, some updates and adjustments are to be expected. There is some minor tweaking of the play, including the inclusion of a gay couple and the introduction of new character. These changes do not significantly alter the story, but serve to add to the humor as well as make the show more people friendly for a new generation.

The show’s lead role is played alternatively by both Nathaniel Fuller and Charity Jones.  Fuller was playing the role at the performance I attended; he has been in the Carol show in various roles for 30 of the show’s 45 seasons.  Fuller excels as the humbug Scrooge who condemns any activity that is not focused on making a profit.  But he also flourishes on stage as the redeemed Scrooge who seeks both to engage in life and make good the harm that his greed caused.

John Catron as Jacob Marley and Nathaniel Fuller as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Dan Norman.

Juan Rivera Lebron does a nice turn as the emotionally generous Bob Cratchit. When the wealthy Scrooge refuses to donate to those who have come to his office seeking charity donations, it was touching to see Cratchit slip them a few of his coins on the side so that Scrooge would not see. Meghan Kreidler exudes warmth as the weary Mrs. Cratchit.

There is a a remarkable on-stage chemistry between Ryan Colbert, who plays Scrooge as a young man, and Maya Lagerstram, who plays Scrooge’s fiancé.  When the young couple break up, the resulting pain lingers with the audience.

Emily Gunyou Halaas is both refreshing and humorous as Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilber.  Her disdain of Scrooge as well as her concern for his wellbeing comes across in her body movements and facial expressions.  Eric Sharp as Scrooge’s nephew is engaging as a young man who truly seeks a loving relationship with his late mother’s only brother.  Ansa Akyea plays a charismatic Ghost of Christmas Present.

As the director, Keating shows a flare for the spectacular whenever a ghost appears, starting with the appearance of Scrooge’s deceased business partner Jacob Marley.  When the various ghosts for the past, present, and future arrive, each descends as dramatic, larger-than-life figures floating down to the stage.

The cast of the Guthrie Theater’s production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Dan Norman.

Walt Spangler’s scenic design provides a picturesque view of London in the 19th century.  Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design contributes to the picturesque effect.  A highlight of the scenic design is the design of Scrooge’s business/home, which is pushed downstage for certain scenes but then fades into the background when the scene locations shift.  Mathew J. LeFebvre’s detailed costumes strongly capture both the time period and each character’s social status.

The familial, feel-good vibe of the show is enhanced by the decision to have the final scene occur in the Cratchit home, rather than in Scrooge’s office.  As all of the actors pour into the home, the audience is pulled into a heartwarming gathering where Tiny Tim speaks his enduring phrase “God bless us, every one.”

The Victorian Christmas celebrations (complete with fancy dress, singing, and dancing) remain a faithful highlight in the Guthrie Theater’s 45th annual production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Dan Norman.

A Christmas Carol plays through December 29 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

Bev Wolfe