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PREVIEW: The Guthrie’s New Christmas Carol

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

When A Christmas Carol opens at the Guthrie Theater in November, things are going to look a lot different. No, not “oh, hey, some new faces” different – a massively reworked and re-imagined production.

While the big blue box on the riverbank closed its stages to the public for most of the COVID-19 pandemic (What the Constitution Means to Me is now playing on the McGuire Proscenium Stage, its first full production with in-person audiences since March 2020), its creative teams and production staff were busy working at home and behind closed doors. Funded in part by a federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, the unprecedented public pause presented a rare opportunity to rework a holiday production that was largely unchanged since 2010. When this new version of A Christmas Carol begins previews on November 10, it will do so with new scenery, props, costumes, lighting, and sound.

Part of the impetus for change comes from a new adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novella, in this case written by Lavina Jadhwani. Jadhwani, a first-generation Indian-American director and playwright, has made something of a specialty in updating adaptations of Chekov plays and Asian Indian folklore to resonate with contemporary audiences. “Lavina Jadhwani’s adaptation beautifully captures the essence of Dickens’ novella,” said Joseph Haj, the artistic director of the Guthrie.

Voice and dialect coach Jill Walmsley Zager (left) and playwright Lavina Jadhwani (right) at work. Jadhwani authored the new adaptation of A Christmas Carol premiering at the Guthrie next month. Photo by Dan Norman.

This new production will also mark the first time that Haj has personally helmed this holiday classic at the Guthrie, taking up the director’s reins. “A Christmas Carol opens our hearts to the idea that we’re not only responsible for ourselves but for our neighbors,” said Haj. “I can’t think of a more meaningful message to share with our audiences.”

Haj previously collaborated with Twin Cities filmmaker E.G. Bailey to co-direct a special, virtual storytelling version of A Christmas Carol that played online in the 2020 Christmas season. Before selecting Jadhwani’s adaptation, Haj reviewed dozens of other scripts with their own adaptations of Ebenezer Scrooge’s awakening to the stage.

A Christmas Carol will run November 10 – December 27, 2021, on the Wurtele Thrust Stage. Single tickets start at $15 for preview performances (November 10–11). All other performances range from $29 to $134. Tickets are on sale now through the Box Office at 612.377.2224, 1.877.447.8243 (toll-free) or online at Accessibility services (ASL-interpreted, audio-described, open-captioned, family-friendly and relaxed performances) are available on select dates. Up-to-date information about the Guthrie’s health and safety policies is available online

Matthew Saldivar rehearses as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Dan Norman.

The creative team for the new production of A Christmas Carol includes: Lavina Jadhwani (Adapter), Joseph Haj (Director), Regina Peluso (Choreographer), Jane Shaw (Composer), Mark Hartman (Music Director), Matt Saunders (Scenic Designer), Toni-Leslie James (Costume Designer), Yi Zhao (Lighting Designer), Mikaal Sulaiman (Sound Designer), Carla Steen (Resident Dramaturg), Jill Walmsley Zager (Voice and Dialect Coach), Jennifer Liestman (Resident Casting Director), Megan Winters (Stage Manager), Lyndsey Harter (Assistant Stage Manager), Nate Stanger (Assistant Stage Manager), and Addie Gorlin-Han (Assistant Director).

The new cast includes: Rush Benson (Guthrie: debut) as Belle’s Husband/Ghost of Christmas Future; China Brickey (Guthrie: A Christmas Carol) as Third Fezziwig Daughter/Fred’s Wife; Cat Brindisi (Guthrie: Sunday in the Park With George, The Parchman Hour) as Second Fezziwig Daughter/Charwoman; John Catron (Guthrie: A Christmas Carol, Sense and Sensibility) as Bob Cratchit; Paul de Cordova (Guthrie: The Cocoanuts, A Christmas Carol) as Mr. Fezziwig/Townsperson 1; Nathaniel Fuller (Guthrie: Dickens’ Holiday Classic, As You Like It, A Christmas Carol) as Old Joe; Emjoy Gavino (Guthrie: debut) as Mrs. Cratchit; Isa Guitian (Guthrie: debut) as Belle; Summer Hagen (Guthrie: A Christmas Carol, Tales From Hollywood) as First Fezziwig Daughter/Laundress; Charity Jones (Guthrie: Dickens’ Holiday Classic, A Christmas Carol, Cyrano de Bergerac) as Marley/Townsperson 2; Rajané Katurah (Guthrie: debut) as Fan; Kurt Kwan (Guthrie: The Great Leap, Othello) as Ghost of Christmas Past/Father; Clay Man Soo (Guthrie: debut) as Young Scrooge; Tyler Michaels King (Guthrie: A Christmas Carol, West Side Story, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as Collector 1/Dick Wilkins; Matthew Saldivar (Guthrie: The Royal Family, The Canterbury Tales) as Ebenezer Scrooge; Eric Sharp (Guthrie: As You Like It, A Christmas Carol, M. Butterfly) as Fred; Regina Marie Williams (Guthrie: Guys and Dolls, The Bluest Eye, A Christmas Carol) as Mrs. Fezziwig/Ghost of Christmas Present; and Olivia Wilusz (Guthrie: debut) as Collector 2/Mother.

John Catron (left) and Emjoy Gavino (right) rehearse with young actors Annie Birkholz, Mila Huber, and Lily Birkholz. Photo by Dan Norman.

A dozen child actors will alternate performances: Mollie Allen, Annie Birkholz, Lily Birkholz, Bella Glancy, Keira Guevara, Mila Huber, Jeffrey Keenan, Sadie Maguire, Ines Rose Mojica, Carter Monahan, Ellie Nelson, and John Soneral.

The Guthrie Theater’s 2021–2022 Season is sponsored by the Minnesota State Arts Board, WEM 2000 Foundation of The Dorsey & Whitney Foundation, Target, The Shubert Foundation, and U.S. Bank. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Basil Considine