Colorado Shakespeare Festival presents A Christmas Carol, the definitive Christmas story. Whether you prefer Alastair Sim, Patrick Stewart, Jim Carey, or Michael Caine as Scrooge, everyone gets inevitably wrapped up in Scrooge’s transformation from a cold-hearter miser to generous Christmas-lover. The story includes the haunting presence of four ghosts, and conveys the timeless and classless message that Christmas is a time for family, celebration, and appreciation. Furthermore, the story is a reminder to prioritize our fellow man over our pocketbooks, all throughout the year.
Sneed Aims for Story over Spectacle, Expertise Over Expense
HE SAID: CSF has decided to produce an version of the story that was adapted by the shows director (and CSF Producing Artistic Director), Phillip C. Sneed. In his Director’s Notes for the program, Mr. Sneed stated that his aim was to “create a highly theatrical version of the story, one that relied more on simple stage illusion — and on the magic of words– than on enormous and expensive sets, costumes and special effects.” While I think he succeeded in his goal for the set (more on that later), I found the script overly relied on narration, which broke up scenes and stopped the momentum of the piece. It might have aided the reading of the story, but it got in the way of the performance of the show.
SHE SAID: I really appreciated Sneed’s stated goal to distill the piece and showcase the actors as storytellers. There were times when it worked very well (for example, Scrooge and Cratchit working on two stools). However, I was confused about the moments when the director and designers chose to depart from this. For example, most of the costumes were pretty full and traditional. In addition, if the normal special effects of the piece were trying to be minimalized, why did the ghost of Jacob Marley appear with a spooky reverb on his microphone and a fog effect? Although I personally wish that Sneed had taken his own concept a bit further, I also understand the danger in denying the audience some of the familiar effects that they have come to expect from A Christmas Carol.
Concepts for Stage Effects Used Inconsistently
HE SAID: I didn’t understand where the line was drawn between the use of technical sound effects and the use live sound, but what removed me from the moment more was how the frequent narration and the use of foley sound effects left people on stage to be seen during scenes they were not actually in. While they tried their best to be invisible, its hard to not notice a random third person sitting in a corner during a two- person scene. Where Sneed’s goals were best realized was in the set design. The single set piece for Scrooge’s bed had a seemingly endless amount of hidden uses and really showed how little you need to make a scene happen on stage.
SHE SAID: It is true that in the scenes that were relatively minimalistic, the essence of the story still shone through. This was largely in part due to the talented cast. Bob Buckley as Ebenezer Scrooge was believably miserable and cantankerous at the outset of the show, and it was a joy to watch his transformation. He was incredibly spry throughout — I even noticed that he did a portion of one scene on his knees, with no knee pads to be seen! Another highlight of the show for me was Michael Bouchard as Bob Cratchit, Mrs. Fezziwig, Young Scrooge, and Topper. He was funny, touching, believable, and really varied his physicality well between all the different roles.
Small Ensemble Handles Multiple Roles Well
HE SAID: While the star of the story is Scrooge, that also means that he was most effected by the narrative interruptions. But in spite of it all, Bub Buckley did a commendable job in the iconic role. That said, it was Michael Bouchard that stole the show with his impeccable timing and sincere heart during his scenes with the Cratchit family. He was the only one with multiple characters that truly created defined and distinct people, even as he played Mrs. Fezziwig – who made not have said anything but he made the character hilarious with his physicality.
SHE SAID: The rest of the ensemble also gave engaging performances. The small ensemble all played multiple roles, and it was a delight to see so many of them get so much stage time. Jamie Ann Romero, for example, was a pleasantly enchanted ghost of Christmas past, in addition to playing several other roles. The children, of course, were adorable as ever, and although multiple young boys are playing Tiny Tim this season (see our video HERE), we saw Max Raabe, who was precious as can be.
Simplicity is a Blessing and Curse
THEY SAID: Phillip C. Sneed and CSF should be commended for crafting a new take on this classic. One one hand, the focus on story lead to too much narration and the aim for simplicity lead to interesting, yet out of place and inconsistent, design choices. On the other hand, the focus on story (along with a talented cast) lead to some wonderful performances and the aim for simplicity lead to a very ingenious use of a modular set piece. While the story was told well in this adaptation, we feel the show would have been better served with a bit more showing and a little less telling.
For more a full plot synopsis and history of A Christmas Carol, see the wikipedia article. A Christmas Carol presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival plays through December 24 at the University Theatre on the CU Boulder campus. Click the banner above for tickets and more information.