Stages around the world have forever come face-to-face with one Christmas conundrum—how to do, or re-configure, cherished social-cultural chronicler Charles Dickens’ treasured ‘A Christmas Carol.’
Do you stand by tradition or do you re-jigger its shackles so to unchain Dickens’ treasured tale of Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future?
Lantern Theater Company
In Lantern Theater Company’s ongoing original adaptation of Dickens’ story by actor-writer Anthony Lawton in collaboration with award winning stage, light and sound design captains Christopher Colucci and Thom Weaver — on stage Dec. 3 – 30, at The Drake Theatre, 302 S. Hicks Street— Lawton takes on all characters, dialogue and nuance on his own in a beyond-one-man-show presentation.
“At my parents’ house, when I was a kid, we had this album of ‘A Christmas Carol’ with the actors Paul Scofield and Ralph Richardson performing,” said Lawton during a chat on the ‘Theater in the Round’ radio program. “I would go in the living room when no one was around, turn off all the lights except the Christmas tree lights, and listen. Throughout the years, that became a sacred event for me.”
Lawton, Weaver and Colucci may just focus as much on the profane and spooky as they do the sacred for their take on ‘A Christmas Carol,’ but its effect is laudable and unique all the same.
A People’s Light’s world premiere presentation of its original musical take on Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’ will start on Nov. 20 and run through Jan. 2 on the Leonard C. Haas Stage, at 39 Conestoga Road in Malvern.
The company’s Producing Director Zak Berkman offers himself up as the composer of its new, original songs and freshly arranged 19th century English carols for maximum joy and weirdness. Directed by David Bradley, the cast contains a Murderer’s Row of Philly greats: Ian Merrill Peakes as Ebenezer Scrooge (through Dec. 23) Charlie DelMarcelle, Liz Filios, and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, along with Broadway’s Zonya Love (‘The Color Purple’), Pearl Rhein (‘Natasha’, ‘Pierre’, and the ‘Great Comet of 1812’), and Dorcas Leung (‘Miss Saigon’).
“I’ve been so fortunate to have Peakes engaged in this project as Scrooge from the first draft,” says Berkman. “He has an incomparable energy, insight, and wit that has made it possible to fully imagine a Scrooge unlike any I’ve seen before – and I have seen a thousand Scrooges in my life. Ian is able to offer a Scrooge with many years remaining to make a difference if he can just rediscover the better angels within himself. I’m awestruck by Ian’s instincts for how to embody a Scrooge who is wicked, volatile, and troubled, filled with certainty and doubt all at once.”
When it comes to composing his ‘Christmas Carols’ new music, Berkman is even more effusive and ebullient. “My hope with this entire adaptation is there is a vibrant dance happening between 1843 and 2021 – the text, the music, the look and feel of it all.”
While of its original songs are inspired by-or-based-on traditional carols from England’s 18th and 19th centuries, Berkman has made radical adjustments.
“I’ve composed new lyrics for a familiar melody. Or mashed-up two carols together and added my own touch. Other times I’ve interwoven themes, stories, and ideas from well-known carols into more modern sounding music. There are nods to everyone from Richard Thompson to The Beatles, to Michael Jackson and Coldplay.”
Berkman goes on to say that his favorite Christmas album growing up was Joan Baez’ ‘Noel’ where she collaborated with Peter Schickele (best known for his PDQ Bach albums) and brought their own specific political and aesthetic sensibilities to this surprisingly brutal and beautiful music.
“As a kid, my older brother and I would huddle around our various instruments, and try to come up with our own distinctive versions of these songs: often influenced by a mix of Peter Gabriel, U2, Kate Bush, and Steeleye Span. Ah the 80s! There were definitely moments while working on the music for ‘A Christmas Carol’ I felt Baez and my brother whispering into my ear.”
While working with local musical bright-lights Mitch Chakour and Justin Yoder on the arrangements for these new ‘Christmas Carol’ songs, Berkman and Co. embrace an oddball mix of what he calls super simple old-school folk music and 80s anthem rock, all while adding their own distinctive layers.
“I hope people will find the music compelling, surprising, catchy, and sometimes a bit unsettling – just like our ‘A Christmas Carol.’”