The Sacramento Theatre Company – known as STC – is staging the 30th anniversary production of their original musical version of “A Christmas Carol.” I have seen this holiday evergreen many times, and have thoughts about this local holiday tradition.
The first time I saw STC’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” back in ‘90s, I was a thirty-something dad with twin sons in kindergarten.
I’m now in my 60s with a beard that’s mostly white, and my sons are adults with advanced degrees. But STC’s “Christmas Carol” just keeps rolling along, largely unchanged. Seeing the show again after a five-year break felt kind of like encountering an old friend.
This venerable show draws a younger crowd than you’ll see at most STC productions. I attended a Sunday matinee, surrounded by all manner of kids, including a group of girl scouts, some attending a play for the first time. There were crinkly candy wrappers and spontaneous comments whispered to mom, which in a different setting might be distracting.
But for this old critic, it was kinda fun sitting with these kids as they responded to the story. There’s a scene in which the 20-something Scrooge offers an engagement ring to his girlfriend Belle, and when she accepts, there is a brief kiss. The pre-teen girl seated just to my right had this spontaneous reaction: “Ee-uuu!”
It was a cute moment, and a ripple of gentle, amused laughter moved through the hall.
Veteran actor Matt K. Miller is back as the stingy, mean-spirited Scrooge, a grumpy, small-minded tycoon whose cold-hearted nastiness is addressed head-on when the ghost of his business partner Jacob Marley lurches on stage, wrapped in chains and issuing a baleful warning:
Marley: This is my penance for a life misused…
Scrooge: But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.
Marley: (thundering) Business! Mankind was my business! The common welfare was my business. Our profession is but a drop of water in the ocean of our business.
Scrooge: Please Jacob, speak comfort to me, I beg you!
Marley: I have none to give.
That forlorn, quiet warning – “I have none to give” – lingers in your memory.
There’s also a scene in which two dirty, emaciated children dressed in rags emerge from beneath the glorious robe worn by the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Spirit: “Look, here.”
Scrooge: Spirit, are they yours?
Spirit: They are man’s. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both. But most of all, beware this boy. For Ignorance is doom, unless it be erased.
Scrooge: A little learning, Spirit, can be a dangerous thing!
Spirit: So too is a little hanging. Would you rather have a great deal of that, and no learning at all?
“Christmas Carol” is, and always has been, a Victorian-era morality tale created by an unabashed social reformer, depicting the importance of caring for the poor, and the homeless.
These are themes that still resonate here and now in Sacramento, in ways that Charles Dickens could not have imagined in 1843.
“A Christmas Carol” may be almost 175 years old, and exceedingly familiar, but it’s a story with a message that might as well have been ripped from this week’s headlines.
Lastly, let’s remember the late David de Berry, who composed a pretty darned good score for this show 30 years ago — he died in 1995. And also the late Dennis Bigelow, who directed the first STC production — he died in 2005. Together with playwright Richard Hellesen, now in his 60s, and still teaching at American River College, they started a very good thing.
The Sacramento Theatre Company production of “A Christmas Carol” continues through Christmas Eve.