When actors along the Wasatch Front perform in “A Christmas Carol,” they will be competing for reviews with Charles Dickens himself.
Dickens first read from the novel in 1852 and continued to bring it to the stage for many years. At a December 1867 performance, Dickens was glowingly praised by no less than the New York Times.
“When he came to the introduction of characters and to dialogue, the reading changed to acting, and Mr. Dickens here showed a remarkable and peculiar power,” wrote the reviewer. “Old Scrooge seemed present; every muscle of his face, and every tone of his harsh and domineering voice revealed his character.”
The history of “A Christmas Carol” begins in the fall of 1843, when Dickens was facing financial uncertainty not unlike Cratchit. His family bills were mounting and the mortgage was due. He had six children to feed and a large house in London to maintain. He bitterly confided to a friend that his bank account was bare.
Dickens had a “ghost of an idea” and his thoughts turned to writing a story full of cheer and goodwill for people who, like he, had suffered poverty. He began to feverishly write the novel and became engrossed in the story. He wrote that as the tale unfolded he “wept and laughed, and wept again.” Writing the novel transformed him. “I was very much affected by that little book,” he told a journalist, “and quite reluctant to lay it aside even for a moment.”
The novel proved so popular that two months later there were at least eight theatrical versions of “A Christmas Carol” in production. Stage adaptations continued for decades, and eventually films and television productions have kept alive the story of the penny-pinching miser and his redemption. Actors from Lionel Barrymore to Mr. Magoo — and as varied as Patrick Stewart, Bill Murray, Michael Caine (opposite Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit) and Jim Carrey — have led adaptations as Scrooge.
With no direct mention of the Babe of Bethlehem, many consider “A Christmas Carol” to be a secular story. However, Dickens writes, “For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty founder was a child himself.” Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, explains, nothing about Christmas can be separate from “the veneration due to its sacred name and origin.” And the novel’s most famous line is Tiny Tim’s prayer of “God bless us, every one.”
The story of “A Christmas Carol” was the first to establish the idea of charity during the Christmas season toward those less fortunate, and Dickens firmly believed in living a Christ-like life.
In his posthumously published “The Life of Our Lord,” he wrote: “It is Christianity to do good always — even to those who do evil to us. It is Christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them do to us.”
‘A Christmas Carol’ in local theaters
At Hale Centre Theatre West Valley, “A Christmas Carol” has been a 28-year tradition. With productions by five other area theater companies, it seems Utahns can't get enough of Scrooge, his three ghosts and Tiny Tim, too.
CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, through Dec. 22, $20-$18 for adults, $19-$17 for students/seniors, centerpointtheatre.org or 801-298-1302
Draper Historic Theatre, through Dec. 15, $9 for adults, $7 for students/seniors/military, $5 for children 12 and under, drapertheatre.org or 801-572-4144
Egyptian Theatre, Dec. 19-22, $60-$30, egyptiantheatrecompany.org or 435-649-9371
Hale Center Theater Orem, through Dec. 22, $20-$16 for adults, $16-$14 for children, haletheater.org or 801-226-8600
Hale Centre Theatre West Valley, Dec. 8 through 22, $28 for adults and $18 for children ages 5-11, halecentretheatre.org or 801-984-9000
Pioneer Theatre Company, through Dec. 15, $38-$59 in advance or $5 more day of show, with half-price tickets for children over age 5 through grade 12 on Mondays and Tuesdays, pioneertheatre.org or 801-581-6961