Denver Center once again presents the Christmas classic
Since this show is very similar in cast, crew and production from last year, I’m running my 2017 review along with a slideshow to give a better idea of what the show looks like.
Ebenezer Scrooge is a despicable miser who, after supernatural intervention, becomes a generous and beloved member of the community overnight.
That’s the story, we’ve heard it a thousand times. Why hear it again?
Because some stories just stand the test of time by their persistent relevance, and in this respect, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is near the top of the list. Almost every year since 1990, the Denver Center Theater Company has put on a musical version of the, and people keep lining up to see it because, well, Scrooge.
We all have some Scrooge in us, some more than others. Or maybe we empathize with some of the victims of Scrooge’s pre-woke abuse. It’s not hard to divine similarities between the rich-poor division in Dickens’ time with what we see today in the U.S. and beyond. As the rich get richer, often at the expense of the rest of us, we see Scrooge-ism alive and well — no matter what crumbs trickle down.
And that’s what struck me in seeing “A Christmas Carol” again after quite a few years: We’re left with that feel-good ending as Scrooge mends his ways and learns the true meaning of Christmas. My more cynical 2017 side sees Scrooge, for the most part, buying his way out of disfavor with a strategic distribution of shillings. And on Boxing Day, he’ll still be rich, Bob Cratchit will still be poor, and Scrooge’s decades-long run of inflicting misery on everyone around him will not soon be forgotten.
Leaving that sobering note behind for the moment, it’s nonetheless a great pleasure to revisit this story via the Denver Center’s stellar production, directed by Melissa Rain Anderson from an adaptation by Richard Hellesen with music by David de Berry. The show is in the Denver Center’s large Stage Theater.
Returning once again as Scrooge is the great Sam Gregory, who inhabits the role with a devilish glee and a sly sense of humor that provides that much-needed comic relief as the character confronts his demons. Rhythmically, this production does a very nice job swinging between all of Dickens’ emotional touchpoints: the depths of human frailty, the power of family, the joy of Christmas, the plight of the poor, the strength of spirit exhibited by those who believe. And, of course, the terrible fate that awaits those who shun the milk of human kindness.
This production features a wonderfully diverse cast that freshens things up by disposing of some old tropes. Yes, Scrooge should probably always be a bitter old white guy, but the Ghost of Christmas Past is a beautiful black woman in shimmering white robes (Latoya Cameron); Tiny Tim (Lucas Turner) is African-America, meaning the Cratchit family itself is bi-racial. The Ghost of Christmas Present is also played by a black actor (Erick Pinnick), whose bombastic turn is a joy to behold. In another standout performance, Jeffrey Roark plays Jacob Marley as the Terminator of tortured souls, blasting into Scrooge’s bedroom with shocking fury and a great rattling of chains.
There are a lot of versions of Dickens’ 1843 classic kicking around these days, but it’s hard to beat the original story as set in Victorian England. So many holiday images, carols, tropes and characters seem to spring from this age, it’s like seeing the real thing before, say, Target got a hold of it.
This season’s “Christmas Carol” at the Denver Center is a ton of fun and as emotionally impactful as ever. It’s a topnotch production and one that will serve well those who’ve heard it many times before, or those just being introduced to this tortured character who continues to be relevant on so many levels.