Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pop culture Christmas: ‘A Christmas Carol’ at CU

Bob Buckley (right) in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of "A Christmas Carol." [Photo by Glenn Asakawa for CU Communications]

Everyone has made a Christmas album. Bob Dylan just did; would you like to listen to it? So has Richard Cheese. If I could find a backer, I would too. Let’s face it -- Christmas sells.

Musicians, singers, dancers, actors, and all the support staff that surround them count on this time of year for a big infusion of cash (some of it under the table, as I recall). Fortunately, each year we drag out and redress the old decorations, lights and common cultural property, of which there is precious little these days. We need our yearly dose of redemption, forgiveness and compassion. And we need people to make the magic for us.

The holidays justify that once-a-year visit to the theater, for the Nutcracker or the Messiah, for the adaptations of movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “A Christmas Story,” and long enough now that snarky shows like “The SantaLand Diaries,” “Santa’s Big Red Sack,” and “Balls! A Holiday Spectacular,” all going down in the Denver metro area, here in the heartland. Or a place on its western rim.

“A Christmas Carol” is the gold standard. The 1843 Charles Dickens masterpiece is a story you couldn’t kill with a stick. It’s got everything! A comedy miser! Three ghosts (four, if you count Marley’s enchained wraith)! It converts easily into a musical! A bumbling clerk! A relentlessly pathetic disabled child!

Big bowls of steaming stuff. Victorian line dancing. Caroling. Time travel. Funny hats. “May you be happy in the life you have chosen!” After so many years of watching so many different productions, it all beings to blur together.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival trotted out yet another adaptation last week. In contrast to the high-MGM-period budget of the Denver Center’s version, this staging is simple and straightforward. Adapter and director Philip C. Sneed, CSF’s Producing Artistic Director, knows we know the story, and that you just need to get out of its way.

Using lighting cues, rolling props and actors in multiple roles, Sneed imaginatively guides us through Scrooge’s pilgrimage to self-awareness. You get the redemption. You get the forgiveness. You get the compassion.

And you get a study guide! Actually, it’s quite good – thank Amanda Holden, Melinda Scott and CU's Dr. Shirley Carnahan for that. We have all had to page through bad study guides. And we have all survived awful holiday fare. This production is by far at the good end of my lifetime “Christmas Carol” spectrum.

Bob Buckley is a nice Scrooge, and the ensemble includes some other faces from the CSF’s summer company as well. The minimalist approach works.

And they don’t make you sing or make wassail with them at the end or anything. That is good.

“A Christmas Carol” is presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in the University Theater on the CU-Boulder campus through Dec. 27. For tickets and information, please call 303-492-0554 or visit online at

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