About the author:
When it comes to paring a classic down to its essentials, Joe Calarco is an expert. Calarco first won raves back in 1998 for adapting and directing R&J, a fully realized version of Romeo and Juliet featuring a cast of four men. Now, the director of quirky musicals including Sarah, Plain and Tall, Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky, The Burnt Part Boys and In Transit is helming a well-reviewed production of A Christmas Carol at the Theater at St. Clement’s Church. Featuring a script by Patrick Barlow (The 39 Steps), the off-Broadway mounting of Dickens’ holiday classic has a five-person cast led by Peter Bradbury as Ebenezer Scrooge, with four performers embodying the Ghosts, the Fezziwigs, the Cratchits and more. Broadway.com asked Calarco to explain why this version of A Christmas Carol caught his attention and why it’s delighting NYC audiences.
Is there anyone who doesn’t love Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Hey, the story is filled with the holiday spirit—and hauntings and redemption and celebration and forgiveness. There isn’t much to dislike.
I’ve always wanted to direct A Christmas Carol on stage. The story has always moved me and I love a good ghost story, but I never found most of the adaptations out there intriguing. More often than not, they came off as pageants or as cartoons, so when I first read Patrick Barlow’s adaptation, I was thrilled. Here was the story I remembered so well from childhood, filled with heart, and joy, and a few shivers up the spine along the way.
Most importantly, Patrick’s Christmas Carol is inhabited by three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood characters and not by caricatures. This was a version of the classic story that I knew actors could really sink their teeth into and that audiences could be swept away by.
Patrick’s adaptation is a challenge to any creative team—and to the cast, which is made up of only five actors. Peter Bradbury plays Scrooge, and Mark Light-Orr, Mark Price, Jessie Shelton and Franca Vercelloni play all the other parts, as well provide music by playing a number of instruments.
At times, our Christmas Carol feels very much like a musical. You’ll hear a lot of Christmas carols in the show’s 90 minutes. We were lucky to have Mary-Mitchell Campbell, one of the greatest music directors working today, bring her magic to the production. Oh, and did I mention there is mask work involved, and puppetry? I won’t give away which character is played by a puppet, but the wonderful design for that puppet is by Thomas Getchell.
Yes, Patrick’s adaptation demands theatrical magic, but the purest kind—the kind that doesn’t need a cast of thousands or extravagant tricks but that relies on the audience’s imagination. The design team—Brian Prather on set, Anne Kennedy on costumes, Chris Lee on lights, and Victoria Delorio on sound—has done wonders to make the magic happen. Our set does wondrous things, and the ride it takes the characters on is a surprise that I love watching audience experience at each performance.
And these actors! They are performing feats of magic, leaving the stage for only a few seconds at a time. Otherwise, it’s just them, a few props, a few changes of costume pieces and their wondrous talent vividly bringing this timeless story to the audience in a version that is completely refreshing and surprising for the audience.
Patrick has also given us a fresh take on the character of Scrooge, which Peter has fully embraced. This Scrooge is not a doddering old fool. He is a successful man who lives in a world that functions the way he thinks it should. In the course of his wild ride, he not only sees how his actions have affected his own happiness, but Patrick’s script allow us to see how his actions have affected the greater world around him in a way audiences have never seen before.
No matter how many times you’ve seen A Christmas Carol (and some of us have seen it many times), I can pretty much guarantee that you will see it in a completely new way at the Theatre at St. Clements. Join us!