Artsmash Critic Tim Smith covers classical music, theater and visual arts in Baltimore and beyond

Baltimore-area theaters put their twist on 'A Christmas Carol'

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Only the incurably humbug-prone would bemoan the plentiful adaptations of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” lighting up theaters this season in the Baltimore-Annapolis area.

For whatever reason, there will be a few more opportunities this year to watch “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old” Scrooge (as Dickens describes him) get his comeuppance from ghosts of Christmases past, present and to come. And, of course, a few more opportunities to hear Tiny Tim, who, when all turns out right at the end, delivers those heart-tugging words — well, you know.

Here’s a look at just a few of the productions that will bring the 1843 Dickens novella to the stage in the days ahead.

Annapolis Shakespeare Company

For the past couple of years, Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s choice for a holiday offering was the nostalgic piece “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.” For 2017, artistic director Sally Boyett decided on a change.

Adaptations are not new to the company, which, in August, gave the world premiere of “Alice and the Book of Wonderland,” adapted by Boyett and resident director Donald Hicken.

“We had so much fun with ‘Alice’ that Sally thought we should try to do ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ” Hicken says. “Our adaptation is quite faithful to Charles Dickens.”

The many characters in the book will be played here by an ensemble of 14. And, as was the case with the company’s “Alice” production, projections, some on a large screen upstage, will be employed to generate extra atmosphere.

For all the stagecraft involved in this world premiere, the words are most important to Hicken.

“I hope we got all the textures of the book,” he says. “Its message of compassion and generosity was important to Charles Dickens, especially at Christmas. But he really wanted that message to be carried through all year.”

“A Christmas Carol” opens Saturday and runs through Dec. 31 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company, 1804 West St., Suite 200, Annapolis. Tickets are $30 to $48 (higher opening night). Call 410-415-3513, or go to annapolisshakespeare.org.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

Three years ago, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company moved into the handsomely renovated 19th-century Mercantile Trust building in downtown Baltimore. In short order, artistic director Ian Gallanar hit upon the idea of adapting “A Christmas Carol” in a way that would acknowledge those new environs.

“Our adaptation is an original adaptation that takes place in Baltimore,” Gallanar says. “I love to do this here because we’re in a building of the Dickens era. Ghosts of old Baltimore are in and around us, so there’s a connective theme to ‘A Christmas Carol,’ too.”

You could say one of those ghosts is Dickens himself — he stayed at a hotel practically around the corner from Chesapeake Shakespeare about a year before he wrote “A Christmas Carol.”

Gallanar tweaked the script for this fourth annual production of his adaptation, which pictures Scrooge as a miserly Baltimorean.

“I cut a scene,” Gallanar says, “and there’s been a little bit of rewriting, a little bit of changing things around. And there’s now a ‘fake news’ joke.”

Also new this year is a roster of guest ensembles from the region to provide holiday music at several performances (pre-show and during intermission). They include Heart of Maryland Barbershop Chorus, Voices Rise, and Bach in Baltimore.

The biggest difference for Chesapeake Shakespeare this season is outside the theater.

“The first year we did this, there was maybe one other ‘Christmas Carol’ in the area,” Gallanar says. “Now there are tons of them.”

“A Christmas Carol” opens Dec. 8 and runs through Dec. 23 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Theater, 7 S. Calvert St. Tickets are $19 to $65. Call 410-244-8570, or go to chesapeakeshakespeare.com.

Fells Point Corner Theatre/Collaborative Theatre

Two groups are coming together to provide a new take on the Dickens classic. A co-production of “A Christmas Carol” by Fells Point Corner Theatre and Collaborative Theatre features an adaptation by the late Anthony Lane Hinkle.

“Anthony was a local theater stalwart before he passed away earlier this year,” says Mark Franceschini, who will direct the production. “He did an adaptation over 20 years ago for a cast of 27. He intended to [rewrite] it for six actors, one as Scrooge, the other five changing roles throughout the show. He was partially through when he died. A number of hands helped to finish it.”

With so few performers, this premiere staging of “A Christmas Carol” will have “a little more frantic pace,” Franceschini says.

Otherwise, the production takes a traditional approach.

“The text is drawn directly from the novella,” Franceschini says. “It helps that the writing of Charles Dickens is so colorful. That language is still very vibrant and picturesque, 174 years later. You can’t not be drawn to it. The piece has a theme of redemption — how a life of disillusionment can still be changed, can find joy and happiness in humankind.”

“A Christmas Carol” will be performed Dec. 8 to Dec. 31 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. Tickets are $19 to $24. Go to fpct.org.

A few more ‘Carols’

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra offers actor Tim Marrone performing an abbreviated version of “A Christmas Carol” with music by Vaughan Williams and others, conducted by Nicholas Hersh. Dec. 9 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. $11 to $18. 410-783-8000, bsomusic.org.

The Memorial Players perform Romulus Linney’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 1 to 10 at Memorial Episcopal Church, 1407 Bolton St. Free. 410-669-0220, memorialepiscopal.org.

Paul Morella performs his one-man version of “A Christmas Carol” Nov. 24 to Dec. 31 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney. $40. 301-924-3400, olneytheatre.org.

Maryland Ensemble Theatre performs “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 8 and 9 at the Carroll County Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster ($16 to $18); Dec. 15 to 17 at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick ($12 to $24). 301-694-4744. marylandensemble.org.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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