Review of A Christmas Carol at Geva Theatre Center
by Debra Ross
Take a look at any KidsOutAndAbout.com calendar day during the December holiday season, and you'll see a large list of events to which you can take your kids. We have events all the way from free to quite pricey. When we compare Geva Theatre Center's shows to community theater, the ticket prices are usually higher by a margin, and it makes some of us hesitate. Are our kids ready for a real theater experience? It depends on the child, of course, and the amount of money you're willing to spend. (And, in the case of Geva, no children under 5 are permitted in the theater.)
But the official KOAA recommendation is: If you have money to put toward giving your family a magical theater experience this holiday season, Geva's A Christmas Carol is where you want to spend it. We said this last year, and we say it again this year. And, relative to downstate theater or to the price of an RBTL or Blue Cross Arena experience, it isn't even pricey, especially for kids, who get half-price tickets.
Geva has presented A Christmas Carol for many years in various forms. But the Christmas Carol they're running since 2010, an adaptation by Geva's longtime Artistic Director Mark Cuddy, make use of artful modern technology while remaining perfectly situated in the tradition of all of the Christmas Carols you've ever seen in terms of plot and lines. If you've never seen this production, you'll fall in love afresh with the enchantment of the season. If you've seen it since 2010, as my family has every year, you'll slip right into the comfortable magic no matter if you have seen it so many times you can recite Marley's "I wear the chains I forged in life" speech. You wouldn't think that 21st-century technology could heighten your sense of being in 19th-century Victorian England, would you? But it does.
Who should see A Christmas Carol?
Who will appreciate A Christmas Carol? Those who appreciate both the story and great collaborative art. So, if your child is under 10 and has already seen some version of A Christmas Carol—the Mickey Mouse version, say, or the Muppets' version—then they'll understand enough of the story to appreciate what is happening in the play. My now-15-year-old daughter Ella first saw it when she was 9; it was her first encounter with A Christmas Carol, and I was glad that her it was such a brilliant production. On the other hand, even though I had explained the plot to her beforehand, I had to keep avoiding answering her whispered "what's happening?" questions. She loves any theater experience, though, so she adored the show. (Of course, her next goal was to see the Muppets version.) Each year since, she knew exactly what was coming and when, so no more whispers.
The lesson: For your kids to make the most out of their Geva experience, a little prep time goes a long way. A Christmas Carol is not really a comedy; it's a ghost story with moral and a happy ending. I know you all know that, but it bears repeating so that you don't disappoint kids who are expecting everything Christmasy to be all merry and bright. Marley's Ghost in this version is easily the scariest one I've ever seen, and he comes right down the aisle. Ella really cringed during that whole section last year, though this year she didn't turn a hair. For any kids who become nervous, you can tell them that once the Ghost of Christmas Past pops up (played by a child) the creepy bits are pretty much over. I had expected the Ghost of Christmas Future to be even scarier than Marley, because it usually looks like the Grim Reaper. But it's not even a person, it's... sorry, you'll just have to go to see how they present the Ghost of Christmas Future. (Think technology.)
Guy Paul, who reprises his role as Ebenezer Scrooge as he has for many years, is one of the best actors I've ever seen on the Rochester stage, and that's saying a lot, because we have so many marvelous performers here. Before this run of A Christmas Carol started, he was last seen on the Geva stage in Pride and Prejudice. The range of emotions he displays is remarkable, and Scrooge's transformation from miser to benefactor is such good physical comedy that you almost forget, at that moment, that A Christmas Carol is not a comedy. It's quite funny, indeed; we're still chuckling over it, and it is what others who have seen the show talk about afterward.
Ella asked me to be sure to mention performances by the kids, which have been top-notch through the years; Geva always seems to find the best of the best in local acting talent for these roles. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the phenomenal music. Gregg Coffin, Associate Artist at Geva, is often referred to as a genius in this town, so I won't go overboard in effusiveness when others can do that much better than I. A Christmas Carol is not really a musical, but this production has enough singing (which is rendered spot-on by the talented cast) and dancing to trick you into thinking maybe it is. And here is the remarkable thing: He somehow has created new Christmas songs that, if Cuddy's version of A Christmas Carol starts touring, I could easily see merging into our culture over the years and themselves becoming part of the Christmas music tradition.
A Christmas Carol is on the Main Stage at Geva Theatre Center Nov 22 - Dec 24, 2017. See it.
© 2010, 2016 Debra Ross