It can’t be easy, it seems to me, to bring something fresh, or at least, genuine and enthusiastic to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, there are so many versions available, on stage, film, television, musical and non-musical, live action and animated, serious and spoofed. Christmas Carol has become fodder for countless tributes, not to mention endless references in commercials, comedy bits and casual conversations? How freely do we label some curmudgeon a “Scrooge” (or “Grinch”?) if they resist the Christmas spirit? Without question, the devoted thespians at the Dallas Theater Center have a challenge set before them, every Christmas season, as they mount this familiar, and too-often pedestrian piece? Like Peter and the Wolf or The Nutcracker, there’s nothing wrong with them, but they would be such a pleasure to experience as if it were the first time.
For various reasons of practicality, the version of A Christmas Carol we see is something like third or fourth generation. Ebenezer Scrooge is a cranky, clueless, workaholic, who simply doesn’t get it (instead of the profoundly wounded soul who, back in the day, cherished the revelry and altruism of Christmas as much as the next guy). After getting all the animosity scared out of him by three strangely clad ghosts, he has a sea change and starts throwing money around, proclaiming “Merry Christmas” to one and all, and saving Tiny Tim from a looming and premature grave. These incarnations are good-hearted and well-meaning, but they sometimes are little more than a gloss on this rich and poignant narrative.
Leaving the theater after DTC’s production of Christmas Carol, I could scarcely believed how overwhelmed and overcome with emotion I was. Apart from avoiding the hazards enumerated above, DTC’s Christmas Carol is a detailed, conscientious, exuberant, thoughtful, witty and spectacular experience, awash with radiant humanity and bliss. Chamblee Ferguson, surely the most convincing and affecting Scrooge I’ve ever seen, never cops to mugging or ranting or gobbling scenery. Ferguson makes the utterly sympathetic Ebenezer very palpable and accessible, the loss of his beloved sister and fiancée tied to Christmas in his mind, and thus drenched in pain. Director Joel Ferrell is careful to raise the issues of poverty, misery and charity that ought to be foremost in all our minds, in this season of love and light, without manipulation or reflex. The special effects are often breathtaking, and the dance numbers, infectious and sublime. If you need a dose of effusive, canny, deeply realized Christmas zeal, don’t miss DTC’s A Christmas Carol.
The Dallas Theater Center presents A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, playing November 20th through December 23rd, 2012. Kalita Humphreys Theater. 3636 Turtle Creek Boulevard, Dallas, Texas 75219. 214-219-2718. www.uptownplayers.org