So, if you know me, you know I am very meh about Christmas. It's actually a pretty depressing time of the year for me (and for lots of other people, I imagine). I cringe when the commercials start, and that Target commercial that shows the Donna Dixon-esque blonde and her uber-nerd bespectacled husband and the damn present she won't/can't open actually makes me want to boycott Target. Which would be like boycotting oxygen, but still.
When I got the email from The Guthrie offering up tickets to the iconic "A Christmas Carol", I was a tiny bit nonplussed. I knew that these tickets are highly coveted, and I knew that generations of Minneapolitans have been flocking to this show for 35 years. I knew that once you see it performed at the Guthrie, you are infected with it, and have to see it again, every holiday season, for the rest of your life. But...and here's where the puzzlement figured in...I don't like Christmas. I wondered if I could handle a couple hours of theater-y merriment and, gulp, a literal Dickensonian Christmas fix.
The good news: I could handle it. And not only handle it, but, by golly, it transformed me. I walked out of that theater brimming with the Christmas spirit (and yes, I'm sure the lovely pinot noir served up by the fabulous barkeep Ben stoked the fires of that spirit, but anyhoo...) and feeling the joy, the love and the warmth of the season.
Guthrie? Well done.
Where to start with this production? Where else but what you see when you first walk into the Wurtele Theater: the most amazing set EVER. Worthy of a Broadway show, the set transports you from the hustle and bustle of downtown Minneapolis to a charming London street circa 1843. Every last detail has been painstakingly attended to, from the frost on the window panes to the quilt on Scrooge's bed. Adding to the magical trip back in time are the rotating buildings and the trapdoor openings on the floor...it's like the worlds coolest dollhouse come to life.
And the acting: can we talk? I'm not the world's foremost authority when it comes to casting, acting and all that goes along with it, but this play was, in my humble opinion, PERFECTLY cast. J.C. Cutler is the actor playing Ebenezer Scrooge, and dude nails it. He does the seemingly impossible: playing a character who is completely loathsome but somehow endearing...I felt sorry for him, almost from the get-go. His misery is palpable, and as the story unwinds, his regret over the way he's lived his life is etched upon his face and displayed in every move he makes.
Other standout performances include Kris L. Neslon as Bob Cratchit, Angela Timberman as Scrooge's housekeeper/lush Merriweather, Zach Fineblum as the young Scrooge and Lee Mark Nelson along with Suzanne Warmamen as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, respectively. The Fezziwigs are present in the production for a brief time, but they definitely make a fabulous impression. I want to be invited to a bash like theirs!
Oh, and I cannot forget to mention the ghosts: Past, Present and Future. Absolutely GORGEOUS and DETAILED costumes and effects on these characters. I don't want to give too much away here but these otherworldly creatures almost steal the show. One of them, and I'm not going to name any names, makes a remarkably terrifying entrance which, according my date, "scared the **** out of me". My apologies for this rather crude remark, but it was pretty freaking scary. My apologies also to the little girl sitting next to me, I think seeing this chubby 45 year old jump a foot in her seat was probably the low-light of her night.
Everyone knows how this story goes, we've all seen our share of productions, from the Muppets version to the Bill Murray movie "Scrooged" (one of my favorites) to, God help me for having this in my memory banks, the Mr. Magoo version. It's hard, if not nearly impossible to take something so timeworn and make it fresh. But that's exactly what the Guthrie has done. And not only have they made it fresh, they've stayed true to the original story that Charles Dickens penned over a century ago. Not much has changed, but this adaptation is incredibly watchable and immensely likable. It takes a special cast and crew to manage something this spectacular, and the Guthrie has done a spot-on job with it this year.
Before I saw this play, I was in my typical Christmastime funk. I worry about buying presents for my kids, I worry about trying to keep the spirit of the season alive when every day is such a struggle for us. But when the Cratchit family was sitting around their meager feast, I felt moved. I brushed away the ambush tears that sprang up in my eyes and swear to God I felt a Grinch-ish heart transformation happening. I can't remember what he said verbatim, but Bob Cratchit said something along the lines of "Let's not dwell on our misfortunes, but rejoice upon our blessings".
And that's exactly what this Scrooge needed to hear.
Thank you, Guthrie Theater, for again allowing me opportunity to enjoy your amazing gifts. I am going to use all of my super-blogger powers to try and procure tickets for this show so my children can see for themselves the beauty of the Christmas season, Dickens style.
Now, get over to the Guthrie's website and get yourself a set of tickets. Stuck on a gift for that impossible-to-buy for person? Let me suggest a couple of tickets to this show. I guarantee it will be the right size, the right color and definitely the right sentiment.