Balladeer’s Blog’s TENTH Annual Christmas Carol-A-Thon continues with this review.
THE GUTHRIE THEATER PRESENTS A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1982) – Stage performances of any story getting filmed for video are pretty hit and miss, but this production is much more of a hit than a miss. The Guthrie Theater Presents A Christmas Carol was filmed at the famed Minnesota theater of the title and aired on The Entertainment Channel in 1982 before being released on VHS.
This presentation of the Dickens classic uses the framing device of Charles Dickens (Marshall Borden) himself being persuaded by Christmas party guests to treat them to his most famous Yuletide ghost story. Dickens is at first reluctant since he’s feeling a bit harried and stressed out, so he huffily clears the room.
Needless to say the act of recounting A Christmas Carol to us viewers winds up restoring his holiday cheer. By the time he closes the framing device at the end of the play he’s as jovial and hearty as Nephew Fred and delivers the whole “good old city, town or boro in the good old world” speech with memorable panache.
If only the play didn’t make us wait much too long for the final “God bless us, everyone” I’d say it was the best finale to any of the filmed stage versions of the Carol. But the basic concept of this framing device is solid and pleasantly reminded me of E.T.A. Hoffmann being encouraged to regale the Halloween tavern crowd with his “Tales” in my favorite Halloween opera.
I’m not saying Barbara Field, who adapted this for the stage, was imitating Offenbach’s opera, I’m simply saying it was just as much fun.
This version’s Scrooge (Richard Hilger) ably projects a certain air of being preoccupied and lost in his gloomy, bitter thoughts along with his usual obsession with money. He is very good in his exchanges with his Nephew Fred (Robert Nadir) – with an unnecessary flourish involving a paperweight that Scrooge throws at Fred turning out later to have been a gift from his beloved sister, Fred’s mother.
The charity collectors scene is adequate but also throws in an unnecessary change by having one of the collectors be hard of hearing and playing it for some humor. It’s less out of place than the paperweight nonsense so it’s easier to take.
The visit from Marley’s Ghost (Oliver Cliff) may well be the best I’ve ever seen in any of the versions of the Carol except for Patrick Stewart’s one-man show available on audio. Oh, and the elevated portion of the Guthrie stage doubles as Scrooge’s work-desk AND as his bed at home in a utilitarian touch.
The Ghost of Christmas Past is played by an actor (Jonathan Fuller, who does double-duty as Topper at Fred’s party) who looks like he’s done up as a glittery version of the old movie host Son of Svengoolie, complete with top hat. We get treated to the scene between young Ebenezer and his sister Fan, but with the paperweight from earlier jammed in.
This Guthrie Theater production combines the Christmas of Fezziwig’s party with the Christmas when Scrooge’s love Belle (Keliher Walsh) dumps him. In a so-so bit of business it’s presented as the very first time the increasingly sour Scrooge ever says “Humbug!” (The senses-shattering origin of Scrooge’s signature saying!)
The actor portraying the Ghost of Christmas Present (Peter Thoemke) has the appropriate gravity for the role but unfortunately the sights he shows Ebenezer are littered with too many additions that aren’t in the book and just interrupt the flow. The scene at the Cratchits feels like a reality show called Hangin’ With The Cratchits because we get unnecessary invented details about them.
Look, I’m not saying I want nothing but verbatim adaptations from the novel but you’ll notice Shakespeare fans generally don’t have to put up with this. I’ve never seen a production of Hamlet which makes up additional backstory for Hamlet’s father or anything like that.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come portion is nicely handled and packs an emotional punch that was missing in the Christmas Present segment.
SPOILERS: (I’m kidding!) Scrooge’s Christmas Morning conversion seldom fails to move me and this rendition is pretty good. The hard of hearing charity collector and his friend make their reappearance and things hum along to Ebenezer ribbing Bob Cratchit when he’s late the day after Christmas. On the minus side the actor playing Bob (Mark Murphey) is so bland it’s like he’s the Invisible Man.
Charles Dickens takes us out with the wrap-up of the framing storyline but the pointless tease before we finally get Tiny Tim’s four-word sendoff is as annoying as I mentioned above.
Overall, this is a very, very good version of A Christmas Carol, so kudos to Director Paul Miller. I like it better than the American Conservatory Theater’s VHS version but not as much as the VHS tape of Thea Musgrave’s opera version. +++
FOR MORE VERSIONS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/a-christmas-carol-2/