If you can’t get jolly for the holidays without your annual Scrooge fix, you’re in luck. More than a handful of Los Angeles theaters are staging the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol “” or delivering new tales inspired by the timeless curmudgeon of Christmas. With offerings ranging from the traditional to the twisted and tawdry, there is something for everyone. Bah, humbug!
A Christmas Carol Sierra Madre Playhouse (Sierra Madre)
Sierra Madre Playhouse keeps its tacit agreement with holiday audiences by providing a full-blown family classic for kids of all ages. Adapted and directed by Christina Harris, the traditional tale is brought to life with a large ensemble cast of 29 “” including several young performers “” and plenty of familiar holiday songs designed to warm hearts for the holiday season.
Harris’ script draws directly on the original text for structure and language but also includes new scenes not in the book. “I wanted scenes between Scrooge and his younger sister, Fanny,” says Harris. “The arc to the Fanny story offers a deeper understanding of Scrooge. I want people to understand his past “” his heartache and heartbreak.”
Harris uses 10″“12 musical selections “” under the musical direction of Rich Dembowski “” to help transition the play’s action across space and time. And, while some directors may shy away from casting young performers, Harris delights not only in their innate sense of freedom on stage but also the immediacy they bring to every performance.
“I also wanted something that felt spiritual without being overtly religious,” says Harris. “We’ve found something that is familiar but still new for audiences who know the story well. It’s a chance to rediscover it.”
A Christmas Carol A Noise Within (Pasadena)
With just over a year in its new theater space, the “Home for the Classics” theater company brings Scrooge, Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit to the stage for the first time in 10 years.
Penned by co-artistic director Geoff Elliott (who shares directing duties with co-artistic director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott), the script is a pure adaptation directly from the source material. “[Dickens] was such a dramatist with an intuitive sense,” says Elliott. “His novels can so seamlessly be brought to the stage. I really just pulled all of his words to create this adaptation.”
But Elliott ensures there’s nothing stodgy about this rendition of the story, which Dickens first published in 1843. Plenty of edge can be found in the production, from Victorian-inspired design elements to the original music from Los Angeles’ ever-eclectic composer Ego Plum.
Staging Carol for the first time in ANW’s new 283-seat theater (built from the ground up and opened last year) has made this production an important milestone in the company’s 20-year history. Elliott is particularly thrilled to be stepping into the shoes of Scrooge.
“With all the work we do, but especially with [A Christmas Carol], we feel the importance of the play’s message,” says Elliott. “That we can all be present enough to see the beauty in people around us “” it gives us all a sense of responsibility telling the story.”
A Christmas Carol GTC Burbank (Burbank)
After a limited run last year of this intimate take “” in which a three-person cast performs with a minimalist set, few props and mere suggestions of costumes “” GTC Burbank is remounting Carol as adapted and directed by GTC artistic director Kevin Cochran. David Allen Jones (playing Scrooge) is joined by Frank Simons and Kate Danley, who play multiple characters.
“People who love A Christmas Carol and have seen it a dozen times really like this one,” says Cochran. “It’s a different way to see it and really hear the words. My goal was getting back to the original.”
Cochran notes Dickens’ love for the theater and storytelling in Victorian England, the author often writing his narratives as stories meant to be shared and spoken aloud. Cochran says he found no reason to deviate from the original text other than determining what to cut, keeping the show at a lean 80 minutes in performance. He believes this year’s production offers an improved version after last year’s first outing and collaboration with the actors to refine the text and staging for 2012.
“[Carol] has earned the same position in theater that Nutcracker has for ballet,” says Cochran. “It truly is one of the great stories of all time, both the holiday part of it and the human part of it.”
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
A Mulholland Christmas Theatre of NOTE (Hollywood)
At Theatre of NOTE, a cast of 17 actors is playing more than 100 roles in this musical comedy based on the true history of California’s Water Wars in the early 20th century and the machinations of Los Angeles power-mogul William Mulholland.
“I really wanted to tell the Mulholland story,” says Bill Robens, writer of the book and music. “It seemed natural to use the redemption story of Scrooge as a template.”
Mulholland was first produced at NOTE 10 years ago, receiving critical acclaim and winning over company members to what its current director Alina Phelan describes as its “historically accurate, wildly funny but moving” storyline.
“This show is very beloved by our company,” says Phelan. “But there’s a tonal shift from the previous version. We’re going for a more bluegrass and unplugged feel with the sound.”
The revival has some new elements, including a new song. While presented with a strong dose of fun, the politics and themes of water conservation remind these storytellers of the larger issues percolating beneath the spoof-riddled antics.
“It gives you the perfect holiday spirit,” Phelan says. “It’s a great history lesson “” and a reminder that battles for water are still happening “” but it’s also silly and has a message, which can be unexpected.”
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol And So We Make Art (Downtown Los Angeles)
And So We Make Art features a core group of collaborative artists exploring several forms and styles of performance. According to company founder Casey Kringlen, this production of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula combines elements of a haunted house and Cirque du Soleil-inspired theatricality for intimate audiences averaging only 40 people “” all within a 7,000-square-foot warehouse. This is not your grandma’s Christmas Carol.
“How it’s presented is as far away from traditional as you can get,” says Kringlen. “But when you get down to it, the spiritual arc of the story is the same “” and it’s all from Jacob Marley’s perspective.”
Last year, the company developed a 10-minute selection of the Marley text as a workshop performance with full design elements. This process helped the company create an “audience immersive” aesthetic for bringing the entire play to the stage in the Ã¼ber-hip Six01 Studio, a transformative performance space/art gallery/sound stage in downtown Los Angeles.
Kringlen describes the creative freedom instilled in the company through the collaborative process and the fun of staging what is essentially a ghost story in such a cavernous space. But themes of redemption and transformation remain as Marley is compared to the original Dickens story.
“This is the kind of piece you have to experience and let your expectations go,” says Kringlen. “The action happens all around you; there’s no possibility you’re going to be bored. In fact, you’re going to be on the edge of your seat.”
A Christmas Twist SeaGlass Theatre (Burbank)
Combining two Dickens classics “” Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol “” writers Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Maureen Morley create a completely new tale with a holiday message and Monty Python sense of humor for SeaGlass Theatre.
“If you love Christmas, you’ll enjoy it. And if the holidays annoy you, you’ll also enjoy it,” jokes Twist director and SeaGlass managing director Paul Stroili. “It’s a love letter to the holidays “” and also a preemptive strike against the season and all it entails.”
With the smell of cider wafting from the lobby and Santa greeting you to snap a picture in front of the Christmas tree, SeaGlass Theatre creates what Stroili describes as “event theater” for its audiences.
“When people make that commitment to get in the car and go see a show, we want to offer something more than simply sit down to watch a play,” says Stroili. “The overall experience of the evening is important to us.”
As a small company whose members have roots mostly in Chicago, SeaGlass produces only one show a year with company actors gracing other stages during the remaining months. Stroili finds the company “creatively happiest” when creating work for the stage and hopes Twist will excite audiences about live performance as much as it inspires the SeaGlass team.
“There are still people out here who enjoy theater purely as the art form,” says Stroili. “It’s not just a springboard to film and television.”
A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens! at Kirk Douglas Theatre (Culver City)
The Colbert Report writers Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort have written a full-length sketch adaptation of the Dickens classic for Second City alums and celebrity guests. Read the LA Stage Times feature HERE.
A Christmas Carol at Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre 91024. Open now. Check theater website for show times. Through Dec. 23. Tickets: $12-$25. 626-355-4318. www.sierramadreplayhouse.org
A Christmas Carol at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 91107. Opens Dec. 8. Check theater website for show times. Through Dec. 23. Tickets: $16-$52. 626-356-3100. www.ANoiseWithin.org
A Christmas Carol at GTC Burbank, 1111-b W. Olive Ave., Burbank 91506. Opens Nov. 30. Thu.-Sat. 8 pm; Sun. 3 pm. Through Dec. 16. Tickets: $15-$30. 818-528-6622. www.gtc.org
A Mulholland Christmas Carol at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., HollywoodÂ 90028. Opens Nov. 30. Thu.-Sat. 8 pm; Sun. 7 pm. Through Dec. 23. Tickets: $25-$30. 323-856-8611. www.theatreofnote.com
Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol presented by And So We Make Art at Six01 Studio, 601 S. Anderson St., LA 90023. Opens Dec. 14. Fri.-Sat. 8 pm and 10:30 pm. Through Dec. 29. Tickets: $34.99. 800-838-3006. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/298333
A Christmas Twist presented by SeaGlass Theatre at Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank 91505. Open now. Fri.-Sat. 8 pm; Sun. 4 pm. Through Dec. 16. Tickets: $30. 818-533-8441. www.seaglasstheatre.org
A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens! presented by Second City at Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City 90232. Open now. Tue.-Sun., check theater website for show times. Through Dec. 30. Tickets: $20-$65. 213-628-2772. www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.