Above: The Ghost of Christmas Present (played by character Elyot Crummels, portrayed by actor Jeremy Choate) confronts Scrooge (Keith Bates) in ACT 1 Theater’s 2017 production of “Dickens’ Christmas Carol: A Traveling Travesty in Two Tumultuous Acts.” Photo by Mike Glatzer.
When Charles Dickens’ released his short novel “A Christmas Carol, in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas” in December 1843, it was an immediate hit. The first edition sold out by Christmas Eve of that year and new editions continued to sell out during the next year.
Within just a couple of months of the book’s release, at least eight theatrical versions of the story were being staged, according to theguardian.com. And that was just the beginning of “A Christmas Carol’s” success. In the 176 years since Dickens’ wrote it, the story of Scrooge and his ghosts has never really gone away.
Certainly not in metro Atlanta, where “A Christmas Carol” has become a holiday staple in local theaters, as much a fixture of the season as turkey and stuffing.
Come the holidays, it seems that Dickens’ haunting tale pops up everywhere. The Alliance Theatre in Midtown Atlanta is staging its 30th annual vision of the show this year—eight different actors have played Scrooge at the Alliance through the years—and at least six other companies scattered from Cumming to Woodstock also plan to mount their own versions of the Scrooge story.
The plays vary widely in presentation. The Alliance’s supersized production includes 23 actors and a giant puppet. Aurora Theatre’s version is a one-man show. Some companies include bits of music, others based much of their appeal on the show’s tunes. One Alpharetta troupe plans a comic takeoff built around a troubled staging of the play.
What accounts for the continuing success of “A Christmas Carol” in its many forms? “People just love the story, the story of redemption and hope,” said Kathleen Covington, the Alliance’s brand content strategist.
Rosemary Newcott has directed the Alliance’s version of “A Christmas Carol” 17 times. She acted in it 11 times before that, taking at one time or another just about every female role, from Bob Cratchit’s wife to the Ghost of Christmas Past. “It’s been a great ride,” she said.
She’s directing again this year as the Alliance returns the show to at its home theater on Peachtree Street after a couple of years at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre while the Midtown space was being renovated. This year marks the 20th staging of this particular version of the tale, which was adapted by David H. Bell. What keeps her coming back? “I thoroughly love the story,” Newcott said.
Theatergoers tell her they come back to see the show year after year. Some make it one of their family holiday traditions. “A Christmas Carol’s” appeal crosses generations, she said, by combining ghosts, Scrooge’s redemption and Dickens’ outrage at the conditions facing the poor in Victorian England. “It deals with everybody’s needs,” she said.
And it draws a crowd. At the Shakespeare Tavern, artistic director and president Jeff Watkins said the play is regularly the theater’s biggest ticket-seller of the year. It’s also usually one of the biggest box-office draws each year at the Alliance, Covington said. Watkins’ theater has been staging “A Christmas Carol” for 20 years, according to its website. Watkins says some fans come only to the Shakespeare Tavern to see its Dickens’ show. “It sells so well because people love it so much,” he said.
Of course, some theater fans may have seen all of the “Christmas Carols” they want. After all, in addition to local theaters and bookstores, the story shows up in movies and repeatedly on television during the holidays.
That’s where ACT 1 Theater in Alpharetta comes in. This year, the troupe is offering a little comic relief by staging “Dickens’ Christmas Carol: A Traveling Travesty in Two Tumultuous Acts.” It’s a play-within-a-play about a traveling theater troupe performing “A Christmas Carol” one last time after doing it over and over for 15 years. When the Styckes-Upon-Thump Repertory Theatre Company takes the stage for this show, “mayhem ensues,” ACT 1 managing director Melody Cookson said.
“It’s a story about ‘A Christmas Carol,’” she said, “and not just ‘A Christmas Carol.’” Of course, ACT 1 has staged its own version of “A Christmas Carol” in past years. It seems there’s always room for another version of the story on another stage.
Even after all the “Christmas Carols” she’s done, Newcott says she still enjoys staging the story. “It is so beautifully crafted,” she said. “Dickens did quite a job on it.”
Click here for information about “A Christmas Carol” and other holiday shows presented at local theaters.