Since my 7-year-old son has seen many Nutcracker performances, I was excited for him to see a live performance of that other quintessential Christmas show: A Christmas Carol. And while Olney Theatre’s version is recommended for ages 10 and up, I was hoping my son would be able to appreciate the story’s overall message even if he didn’t understand every morsel. When the performance was over, my son deemed it “great” and “scary,” probably exactly what Charles Dickens would hope for.
This production is a far cry from the movie versions (Mickey’s Christmas Carol and The Muppet Christmas Carol) my son had seen in previous years. Drawing almost entirely from Dickens’ original novella, the show features a cast of one. Luckily, that one, Paul Morella, is phenomenal. Morella comes across as a remarkable storyteller, infusing the classic with distinct voices, clear facial expressions, and understated flourishes to deliver Dickens’ words. He doesn’t overtly become the various characters with gimmicks or major costume changes (which would be impossible or at least cumbersome), but a few props and some subtle cues from the lighting and sound help to make the story easy to follow. I especially liked how several quiet background sounds — a door closing, a fiddle playing, bells chiming — helped the tale come to life.
Playing in Olney Theatre’s Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab stage, A Christmas Carol gets an intimate setting. There are only 150 seats, and the farthest seats from the stage are six rows back. As the show began, I was cringing at the thought of my son fidgeting in his seat, saying something to me in a too-loud whisper, or deciding he didn’t like the show and wanted to leave. Thank goodness none of that happened, but I agree fully with the show being most appropriate for older audiences, partly for its content and vocabulary, but also for the need to sit quietly and not be disruptive.
The set here is simple, with antique furniture, oriental rugs, and scattered books. Candlelight onstage and the theater’s black curtains help make the atmosphere spooky, which fits perfectly with Dickens’ intention of the tale as a ghost story. One loud thump made the audience jump (and my son grab on to me), but Scrooge’s meanness and the story’s apparitions and were equally as frightening. Dickens’ witty words and Morella’s playful delivery combined in many spots to lighten the story, and I was surprised by the number of times theatergoers burst out in laughter.
This is the third year that Morella has staged this show. Overall, this production is a serious telling of A Christmas Carol that older children, teenagers, and adults will enjoy. Watching Morella command the stage for two hours is impressive, and the story’s heartwarming ending still endures 169 years after it was first published.
A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas runs through December 30, 2012. Tickets are $26.
- Treats and drinks are available in the foyer during a 15-minute intermission.
- Make sure you’ve gone to the bathroom before the show starts; no one left their seats during the performance we attended.
- For children not familiar with A Christmas Carol’s plot, it’s worth giving a quick synopsis of the story beforehand.
Photo: Using only the words from Charles Dickens’ novella, Paul Morella returns to bring this unique and memorable story of A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS to life at Olney Theatre Center. Photo by Stan Barouh