In today’s Wall Street Journal I review three webcast productions of A Christmas Carol and a webcast of The Steadfast Tin Soldier. Here’s an excerpt.
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Stage versions of “A Christmas Carol” are the “Nutcrackers” of a growing number of American theaters, sure-fire annual cash cows that are both good shows and safe ones—not only because Charles Dickens’s parable of the power of grace is universally known and beloved in the English-speaking world, but also because it evokes the Christmas spirit while steering clear of outright religiosity…
Many of the best “Christmas Carols” I’ve seen this season are one-man shows, of which the most spectacular by far is Jefferson Mays’s version. One of America’s leading stage actors, Mr. Mays is renowned for playing multiple characters in the same show (he portrayed some 40-odd men, women and nonbinary types in Doug Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife”). His fully staged solo version of “A Christmas Carol,” which first ran at Los Angeles’s Geffen Playhouse in 2018 and was headed for Broadway when the pandemic shut it down, is a tour de force of a similar kind, one in which Mr. Mays performs, so far as I could tell, the complete text of Dickens’s novella, turning himself into one character after another with supreme ingenuity….
If you favor a less elaborate, more intimate staging, then I strongly recommend Writers Theatre’s version, in which Michael Halberstam, the company’s artistic director, gives a dramatic small-stage solo reading of “A Christmas Carol” (he carries the book throughout) directed to exceptionally fine effect by Stanton Long. It’s not in any way static—this is a real show, not a lectern reading….
Houston’s Alley Theatre has mounted a Zoom-based version adapted by Doris Baizley and very well directed by Brandon Weinbrenner in which 10 members of the Alley’s resident acting company, all performing from their individual living rooms, divvy up the parts, with David Rainey giving a splendidly pungent, even salty performance as Scrooge….
For those humbuggers who don’t want to see anybody’s “Christmas Carol,” the place to go is Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, which is streaming Mary Zimmerman’s near-wordless pantomime version of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a tin soldier who loves a paper ballerina. Not since George Balanchine’s 1975 ballet version have I seen a “Steadfast Tin Soldier” of comparable quality….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
A scene from Jefferson Mays’ performance of A Christmas Carol: