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Review: Music and mirth in “A Christmas Carol” at Shakespeare Tavern

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Head: Shakespeare Tavern’s “Christmas Carol” full of music and mirth
By PHIL KLOER
Some things, apparently, even Google cannot track, and that appears to be the case with the work that has been seen by the most people. I would lobby for Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” in all its movie, TV, and staged adaptations over more than 150 years. This super-sentimental piece of Victorian bric a brac speaks to us – and sometimes beats us over the head – with its tale of an irredeemable man who is redeemed on Christmas Eve and embraces the spirit of giving.
Here in Atlanta, “Carols” abound, from the gold standard at the Alliance Theatre to the zaniness of Dad’s Garage. There’s also a new offering this year, “Scrooge in Rouge,” which I plan to get to when it opens at the 14th Street Playhouse, a sprinkling of suburban “Carols,” and of course the Jim Carrey 3D version at the movies, which has gotten good reviews but which makes my teeth ache at the very thought of watching Jim Carrey in 3D.
But we’re here to focus on the New American Shakespeare Tavern’s “Carol.” Dickens’ original title for his novella was “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas,” and the Tavern definitely emphasizes the prose. You will hear more of Dickens’ original language — rich, evocative, full of colorful detail — than you will in most stage adaptations. They bill it as a “storyteller’s version,” meaning the eight ensemble players read parts of the original, then some break into characters and scenes while others continue the connecting narration. The only exception is Scrooge (Drew Reeves), who is simply Scrooge.
The recitation, mingled with quick scenes, makes the play move faster, not that it’s ever felt that slow. And Tony Brown, who adapted and directed (and who plays Fezziwig and Christmas Present, among others), creates more humor than usual in little bits of stage business. We don’t usually go see “Carol” for the chuckles, but they are abundant.
Also plentiful, and very welcome, is the music, adapted and directed by Rivka Levin. The ensemble offers several Christmas madrigals, with sumptuous harmonies, that elevate the evening into something even more special, even if they are not connected to the play proper. The players (and singers), in addition to Reeves, Brown and Levin, include Andrew Houchins, Paul Hester, Becky Cormier Finch, Matt Felten, Mary Ruth Ralston, and Clark Weigle.
A final note, on the Shakespeare Tavern itself, which is a wonderful setting for such a play: cozy, intimate, with families, elders and Midtown hipsters all gathered at tables to drink beer, eat pub food and celebrate the holidays with the greatest secular story about the season ever presented.Some things, apparently, even Google cannot track. Ask the search engine what work has been seen by the most people, and it comes up empty. I would suggest Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” in all its movie, TV, and staged adaptations over more than 150 years. This super-sentimental piece of Victorian bric à brac speaks to us – and sometimes beats us over the head – with its tale of an irredeemable man who is redeemed on Christmas Eve and embraces the spirit of giving.

Some things, apparently, even Google cannot track. Ask the search engine what work has been seen by the most people and it comes up empty. I would lobby for Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” in all its movie, TV and staged adaptations over more than 150 years. This super-sentimental piece of Victorian bric-a-brac speaks to us — and sometimes beats us over the head — with its tale of an irredeemable man who is redeemed on Christmas Eve and embraces the spirit of giving.

Here in Atlanta, “Carols” abound, from the gold standard at the Alliance Theatre to the improv zaniness of Dad’s Garage. There’s also a sprinkling of suburban “Carols,” a new offering this year, “Scrooge in Rouge” — which I plan to get to when it opens at the 14th Street Playhouse — and, of course, the Jim Carrey 3D version at the movies, which has gotten good reviews but which makes my teeth ache at the very thought of watching Jim Carrey in 3D.

Carol_press_size-500x375

But we’re here to focus on the New American Shakespeare Tavern’s “Carol.” Dickens’ original title for his novella was “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas,” and the Tavern definitely emphasizes the prose. You will hear more of Dickens’ original language — rich, evocative, full of colorful detail — than you will in most stage adaptations. They bill it as a “storyteller’s version,” meaning the eight ensemble players read parts of the original, then some break into characters and scenes while others continue the connecting narration. The only exception is Scrooge (Drew Reeves, in photo), who is simply Scrooge.

The recitation, mingled with quick scenes, makes the play move faster, not that it’s ever felt that slow. And Tony Brown, who adapted and directed (and who plays Fezziwig and Christmas Present, among others), creates more humor than usual in little bits of stage business. We don’t usually go see “Carol” for the chuckles, but they are abundant.

Also plentiful, and very welcome, is the music, adapted and directed by Rivka Levin. The ensemble offers several Christmas madrigals, with sumptuous harmonies, that elevate the evening into something even more special, even if they are not connected to the play proper. The players (and singers), in addition to Reeves, Brown and Levin, are Andrew Houchins, Paul Hester, Becky Cormier Finch, Matt Felten, Mary Ruth Ralston and Clark Weigle.

A final note, on the Shakespeare Tavern itself, which is a wonderful setting for such a play: cozy, intimate, with families, elders and Midtown hipsters all gathered at tables to drink beer, eat pub food and celebrate the holidays with the greatest secular story about the season ever presented.

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