So much happens between “Marley was dead, to begin with” and the exclamation “God bless us, every one!”
There’s a dead guy in chains, three unsettling ghosts of Christmas, a huge turkey delivered to the Cratchits, familial relationships restored and, most of all, a deeply changed Ebenezer Scrooge, who will henceforth “honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
These are a few of the details of “A Christmas Carol” written in 1843 by Charles Dickens, and a story so beloved that even the Muppets have their own movie version.
In the Grand Valley, two stage performances will bring Dickens’ novel to life in different ways: a one-man show with Jacob Marley’s perspective; and a musical that closely follows the book.
‘JACOB MARLEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL’
It doesn’t seem possible, but Jacob Marley thought even less of his fellow man than did his business partner, Scrooge.
And yet, because of Marley’s efforts in the afterlife, Scrooge is saved. “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” by Tom Mula takes the details about Marley in Dickens’ novel and expands on them.
This one-man play is to “A Christmas Carol” what “Wicked” is to “The Wizard of Oz,” explained Benjamin Reigel, assistant professor of acting and directing at Colorado Mesa University.
It’s a companion piece, a parallel story telling how Marley became involved in the project to redeem Scrooge and the process of Marley’s own redemption, said Reigel, who will perform this show Friday through Sunday, Dec. 13–15, in the Experimental Theatre in the Moss Performing Arts Center at CMU.
Along with wanting to do this show because he loves “A Christmas Carol” and the twist on the story that this production presents, Reigel also saw it as a challenge for himself as an actor because there are several characters he must become with unique voices and personalities, he said.
There’s the cliché that “acting is reacting,” he said. If you flub or get lost there usually is another actor to play off of or to help you get back on track.
“All that is out the window with this,” he said. “You’re manufacturing all of it.”
But Reigel isn’t entirely alone. Mo LaMee, head of the university’s theatre arts department, is the director for the show.
“I desperately needed a really strong director,” said Reigel, who wanted to make sure what he was doing on stage would connect with audiences.
One of the things Reigel is hopeful will most connect with audiences is the idea that caring for fellow man and woman isn’t something stuck in the past or applicable only at Christmas time. It’s for today, too, he said.
There are plenty of people, even in the Grand Valley, who do not have certain things we think all people should have. “This story is being told through that lens,” he said. “It made the whole thing feel more urgent and meaningful.”
‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL — A MUSICAL’
From Marley’s funeral to the joyous words of Tiny Tim at the end, this production is straight from Dickens’ novel.
It’s scene by scene, dialogue from the page whenever possible and even the lyrics for the music are Dickens inspired, said Josh James, director for this production by The Theatre Project.
“A Christmas Carol — A Musical” will open Friday, Dec. 13, at the Western Colorado Center for the Arts (The Art Center), 1803 N. Seventh St.
The musical has a cast of more than 30 adults and children who have been rehearsing since before Halloween, said James earlier this month while taking a break from designing various parts of the production’s set.
There are a number of families with multiple members in the cast, some of those are families with foster children and it has been fun to watch them interact and see parents passing along the joy of loving theater, James said.
It also has been exciting and challenging to hear Dickens’ words and message as they are spoken, acted and sung. “Ultimately, as a director it’s my duty to project Charles Dickens’ point for writing the book,” he said.
In particular, that means getting across the message of loving and taking care of your fellow man, that each person’s actions impact the people around him or her whether they intend them to or not, James said.
The music of this production accentuates the emotion and reflective nature of the story, he said.
Many people miss how the story begins with dead Marley and how Scrooge’s fate should be the same as his business partner’s, he said.
“I want the audience to understand Scrooge,” said James, who also is hopeful that those who see the show will take time for some reflection.
“We all have an element of Scrooge in us. What do we need to have happen in our lives to change us?” James said.