For decades, “A Christmas Carol” has been amongst the most produced plays in the United States. Obviously, the popularity of the show meant significant revenues for the producing companies, which have disappeared along with live audience members. Talk about a Humbug situation.
Now dependent on digital platforms, theater companies are streaming productions of the popular Christmas tale. Some have small fees; some offer the product free and ask for a donation, and a few are expensive. All hope, that “A Christmas Carol” will help their patrons will feel connected to the organizations that kept a tradition alive.
Besides being a timeless tale of redemption and showing how happiness is directly related to living a good life, there are practical reasons for the popularity of “A Christmas Carol.” One is expenses. Besides not having to pay a royalty to Charles Dickens many adaptations have been created using a minimum of performers.
Last week a superb one-man production starring Jefferson Mays was released. Available at achristmascarollive.com it is the gold standard of contemporary Christmas Carols.
Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs is doubling that cast. Local performers, Patrick and Mairin Quinn have made reading the tale to their grandchildren a Christmas tradition. After years of performing in private they have decided to go public.
Under the direction of Dianne O’Neill, they will be streaming their version as a fundraiser for Saratoga’s Home Made Theater. It is offered at 7 p.m. through December 31. There is a small streaming fee. You can obtain a link by going to homemadetheater.org
Another local production is being streamed by Russell Sage College in Troy. It’s a student cast effort with the unique contemporary twist of having Scrooge performed by a 20-year old, who happens to be a Black actor. It is available at theatre-sage.edu through January 6.
However, with the acceptance of viewing a theatrical production digitally, location is no longer a factor in choosing a production of “A Christmas Carol.” Regional theaters throughout the country are offering their own adaptations of the classic Charles Dickens’ story.
Actually, you can see productions from around the globe. London’s Old Vic Theatre taped a live show in an empty theater earlier this year. “Jack Thorne’s Adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’” is available for streaming through December 24. Adding to the excitement Scrooge is played by Andrew Lincoln, who is best known for playing Rick Grimes on tv’s “Walking Dead.” It’s available at oldvictheatre.com
Another reason for “A Christmas Carol” being so popular is the material is open to various interpretations and can be set in many time periods.
For instance, Trinity Rep in Providence, RI is streaming their high-tech version that includes a few contemporary updates. For instance, Tiny Tim is the only child of Bob Cratchit and his husband Sam. It’s available through January 10 at trinityrep.com/carol
Streaming Musicals is offering an entirely different take on the traditional story. The title “Estella Scrooge: A Christmas Carol With a Twist” tells it all. Actually, it appears to at least offer a wink and a nod to Dickens’ “Great Expectations” as well.
With a cast of 24, the gender-bending tale is told as a musical. It’s about Estella, a wall street meanie, who loves to evict people. She personally goes out on Christmas Eve to throw someone out of their home. That person turns out to be her childhood sweetheart, Pip. It’s available at universe.com or ticketmaster.com
For a musical version of the story told in a traditional way, go to wqed.com. There you will see “A Musical Christmas Carol” presented by the professional theater company Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. This is a 2018 archive show that stars Richard Thomas as Scrooge.
Another interesting option is “Two Scrooges: A Christmas Carol, Two Ways.” It’s offered at WritersTheatre.org though January 3. One of the two 60-minute presentations is a one-man show acted by Michael Halberstam. The other is a shadow puppet presentation by the troupe Manual Cinema.
Theaters are not only streaming fully mounted productions, many organizations like the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, the Alliance Theater in Atlanta, and ACT in Seattle, amongst others, are streaming radio versions of the story.
We might be giving up a lot this holiday season, but there is no reason not to enjoy “A Christmas Carol.”
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.