Scrooged! The long and many lives of ‘A Christmas Carol’

A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theatre.

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. The Alliance Theatre in Midtown is staging its 30th annual vision of the show this year.

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.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at Shakespeare Tavern.

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.

Invasion: Christmas Carol at Dad’s Garage.

If you want your Dickens with a little twist, then look no further than then irreverent annual production at Dad’s Garage called “Invasion: Christmas Carol,” which runs Nov. 29 through Dec 28. Since Dad’s Garage is an improv company known for its wacky and off-kilter productions this outing begins in a very traditional way. All the actors/improvisers have rehearsed a faithful adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” but soon after the show begins a new, improvised character shows up each night to wreak havoc on the plot.

Neither the cast nor the audience know who the invader will be until they step on stage.
In the past, Mrs. Claus has shown up to reunite with her long lost lover – that would be Scrooge – and there’s also been “invasions” by Elmo, Mr. T., Martha Stewart, Jesus and a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Dad’s Garage communications director Matthew Terrell describes the show as a “beautiful disaster” every night.

A Christmas Carol
Alliance Theatre, The Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree Street.
Runs through Dec. 24. Tickets: $17.50-$85; (404) 733-5000; alliancetheatre.org.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
The Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, 499 Peachtree Street.
Runs through Dec.23. Preview performance Dec. 5. Tickets: $22-$42 ($15 for preview performance); (404) 874-5299; shakespearetavern.com.

Invasion: Christmas Carol
Dad’s Garage, 569 Ezzard Street
Runs through Dec. 28. Tickets: $24.50-$49.50. (404) 523-3141; dadsgarage.com.

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