Locally there is one tradition that brings people back year after year: Virginia Stage Company’s production of A Christmas Carol.
Article written by BA Ciccolella and Rebecca Edwards.
Many area residents relate how this was the first show they ever saw at a theater and they look forward to seeing it again and again.
This year, VSC has fully revamped their performance, offering a new script, new set, and fresh experience to their traditional show.
Recently we had the opportunity to visit The Wells Theater and chat with the show’s director, Patrick Mullins and Mr. Scrooge himself, Clark Carmichael. The feeling of Christmas greeted us as we walked into the main entrance of the theater. Trees were being set up and decorated while a plethora of poinsettias surrounded us on every available surface. One couldn’t help but be enthusiastic about the upcoming show.
Each man exuded excitement about the approaching performances. Mullins is again responsible for the adaptation being presented this season. He explained it was an adaptation of Dickens’ classic story; all of the classic moments are still there with a new twist. Mullins’ eyes twinkled as he said that it feels familiar with an “Oh!” of delight and surprise throughout the production.
The new music has been arranged by Roy George, and according to Mullins, the songs are “unexpectedly fun”- a descriptor which he was quick to say applied to the whole production. This year’s offering will be more intimate than it has been in the past, with Carmichael bringing to the table “a spry, unexpected, and surprisingly deep Scrooge,” according to Mullins. The cast of 18 and the three piece band frame the story as a group of carolers, and both Mullins and Carmichael mentioned that although the cast may not be that large, they fill the space nicely.
“The show is family friendly, but has it’s scary moments,” said Mullins. Carmichael chimed in saying, “It’s a Christmas gift to whoever sees it.”
This year, “whoever sees it” will include almost 6,000 kids participating in the student matinees as well as a unique performance billed as Theater for Everyone.
Student Matinees have been an outreach program that VSC has shared with the community for many years. There are some people who participated with their school who now bring their own children and grandchildren to see the show. Brad Tuggle, VSC Director of Marketing, was proud to explain that the Student Matinees were sold out for the run of the show and had been for several weeks.
Mullins added, “It’s very fun to sit in the matinees – kids are an honest audience. They are really fun to do the show for.” As he pointed out, they don’t have to worry about the cost of the ticket, finding parking, paying for a sitter, or any of the other minutiae that goes into a night out on the town. They are simply there to see the show. They will let you know if something is good or if you’ve missed the mark. It’s this honesty that inspires the performers to push a little more and find that extra something for the production.
Theater for Everyone is a program that VSC began four years ago – this year’s performance will be December 13th at 7:30pm. It is a show intended for all people regardless of ability. Attendees will notice that there will be adjusted sound effects to cut back on loud or startling noises, no blackouts, open captioning, a live audio description of the performance while it is in progress (special headset required), as well as a touch tour before the show where guests are able to interact with the props, costumes, and even the Christmas Future puppet. For the first time this year Theater for Everyone is a Pay What You Can performance, making it also theater for those of all financial abilities. Tickets to this performance are $25 in advance and “pay what you can” at the door on the night of the show. (Those who have been around long enough may remember when all of VSC’s first previews were “Pay What You Can” performances.)
Reflecting on the many visitors who will see the show this year, Carmichael shared that the first show he ever attended was a performance of A Christmas Carol back home in Kansas City. He now lives in New York and came to this production because of Mullins (Carmichael had previously appeared on VSC’s stage in their 2013 production of The Odd Couple). He explained that he felt like he was more of Bob Cratchit, but is embracing his first time portraying the indomitable Ebenezer Scrooge.
Whatever traditions you may have, VSC’s A Christmas Carol is a wonderful option for any family. This year’s performance offers a fresh look with familiar characters who seem like old friends as well as a more intimate setting, and perhaps with a live band and a new group of carolers, an old tradition may feel new again.
“I think it’s a more upbeat, joyous Christmas Carol than we’ve seen in a while,“ Mullins said. Carmichael added, “It’s a high quality theater experience, but it’s an accessible one.”
You can get tickets here for VSC’s A Christmas Carol, which runs from December 8th through the 24th at the Wells Theater in downtown Norfolk.