Review of A Christmas Carol at Geva Theatre Center
by Debra Ross
Geva's 2010 production of A Christmas Carol was so successful that they decided to run it in subsequent years as well. This review has been updated for 2016.
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 freeto 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 KOA 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 been putting on A Christmas Carol for a long time in various forms, punctuated recently by A Christmas Story. (In upcoming years, they plan to alternate these shows... so if you miss A Christmas Carol this year, you'll need to wait another two years.) But the Christmas Carol they're putting on as of 2010, an adaptation by Geva's longtime Artistic Director Mark Cuddy, is thoroughly new—even though it stays perfectly situated in the tradition of all of the Christmas Carols you've ever seen in terms of plot and lines. The staging, the technology, and the music combine to make it feel completely new even if you have seen Geva's past productions 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. Last year was my now-10-year-old daughter Ella's 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.) This year, 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 Carolis 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 this year as Ebenezer Scrooge, 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 last year's Christmas Carol, 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, a 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. Many of the performers keep coming back to play the rolls again and again, which is always a good sign: In addition to Guy Paul's outstanding portrayal of Scrooge, we had Jim Poulos as Bob Cratchit, Ned Noyes as Scrooge's nephew Fred, Melissa Rain Anderson as Mrs. Cratchit, and Remi Sandri as the Ghost of Jacob Marley. Ella asked me to be sure to mention performances by the kids, which have been top-notch through the years. 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 23 - Dec 24, 2016.
© 2010, Debra Ross