“Bah humbug”—a phrase long associated with anti-Christmas spirit—stems from Charles Dickens’ classic 1843 novel, “A Christmas Carol.” Ebenezer Scrooge, the main character who utters the phrase, has become so much of a caricature that we often forget the power of his inspiring transformation.
A Noise Within’s (ANW) annual rendition of “A Christmas Carol,” now in its 10th year—directed by ANW Co-Artistic Directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, and adapted by Elliott from the novel—reclaims Scrooge as a character rather than caricature, reminding us through a highly entertaining production what the spirit of Christmas is really about.
A narrator in beanie and scarf (Frederick Stuart) reads from Dickens’ book in leading us from scene to scene, each of which brings the story to life. The first is Scrooge’s office that he shares with kindly clerk Bob Cratchit (Bert Emmett)—Scrooge’s table amusingly larger than Cratchit’s schoolboy desk—during which we cringe at Scrooge’s miserly ways with Cratchit and charity collectors.
But Scrooge (Elliott) is not simply a mean old man. We see him go home alone and fearfully check under his bed before locking the door and eating his gruel by the fire. We are scared with him when the ghost of his old partner Marley (Jeremy Rabb) comes to call—crying out frighteningly with lots of chains dreadfully rattling—to warn Scrooge about his ways. But we laugh when Scrooge falls asleep snoring afterward.
Scrooge is also vulnerable in his dressing gown and afraid when the first of three ghosts orchestrated by Marley lead him through a progression of visions to help him see what he is missing.
The Ghost of Christmas Past (Deborah Strang)—dressed in a white wedding gown with black top hat—shows Scrooge himself growing up, including his one-time love Belle (Roshni Shukla), who sadly leaves the young Scrooge as he becomes increasingly interested in money above people.
The warm Ghost of Christmas Present (Stanley Andrew Jackson)—larger than life and sumptuously covered with a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables—shows Scrooge the rich and merry life of his nephew Fred (Rafael Goldstein) at a Christmas party and also the poor yet still merry lives of the large Cratchit family enjoying a rare goose for Christmas dinner.
Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Future is hauntingly faceless and nearly formless, silently showing Scrooge the horrible truth of what may become of him—including a rousing scene of thieves remorselessly stealing his possessions upon his death to make a few coins, including the shirt off his back, since Scrooge wasn’t nice to anyone while alive.
Each of these episodes includes a lively song and dance, performed with verve and feeling by the ensemble cast. 19th-century costuming (Angela Balogh Calin) and evocative sets (Jeanine A. Ringer) and lighting (Ken Booth) are also lovingly rendered—including Scrooge’s four-poster bed, outdoor trees, the Cratchit family’s simple wooden dinner table and a forebodingly dark graveyard.
The production is imbued throughout with such thoughtful artistry, from balanced writing to invested, emotive and talented acting—including its spirited younger cast members—to creative and evocative staging.
If you only see one holiday production this season, let it be ANW’s “A Christmas Carol.” Experiencing Scrooge’s emotions as written by Dickens, expressed by Elliott and brought to life in ANW’s exquisite play is all you need to realize that opening your heart to others is the only message that matters this season.
“A Christmas Carol” continues at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, through Dec. 23, with performances Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased by calling the box office at (626) 356-3100 or visiting anoisewithin.org. Run time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Masks are optional.