It is a testament to the skill of the cast of "A Christmas Carol" that the show went on with more life and levity after a sudden medical emergency interrupted the opening-night performance this month. After a patron passed out at the Guthrie Theater, the action was paused for about 20 minutes until he was revived in the aisle. To the relief of theatergoers (and, no doubt, the actors), the stricken audience member waved as he was taken out on a stretcher.
The incident, which began at the scene where the Ghost of Christmas Past (Tracey Maloney) takes Scrooge to the Fezziwig warehouse where he worked as a young man, heightened the stakes for everyone. When the actors returned to the set, they did not miss a beat. The performers seemed to use the episode as inspiration, infusing first-time "Carol" director Joe Chvala's witty production with even more spirit and juice.
Jay Albright's impishly joyful and light-footed Fezziwig seemed more bountiful and ready to dance. J.C. Cutler's bah-humbugging Scrooge seemed more open to the redemption of his tightly closed soul. Cutler's Scrooge was itching to offer advice as he watched his younger self (played with promising generosity by Paris Hunter Paul) make bad decisions. And Maloney's Ghost of Christmas Past seemed more beneficent as she helped Scrooge's heart grow.
Crispin Whittell's wry, humorous adaptation from the Dickens feels contemporary. His Scrooge measures people's worth in currency. Those who have wealth are virtuous. Those without are not, and considered part of the "surplus population" perhaps best suitable for the poorhouse or the jail. This Scrooge sounds like a candidate for political office.
This 38th edition of the show has some new touches, including a young Marley. Except for some scary pyrotechnics that accompany the entrance of Marley's ghost (Bob Davis), director Chvala, who choreographed "Carol" over the past two years, gives the action a light, bouncy touch. The characters spring to life with effortless gusto. And he gets fabulous performances from a must-see cast. Angela Timberman is deliciously funny as Merriweather, imbuing her drunkard with deadpan hysterics.
Nathaniel Fuller is also memorable in several parts, including the drunk and ignorant teacher Mr. Sykes. And Hugh Kennedy is steady and stout-hearted as Fred, Scrooge's nephew.
The production has a cast the size of a Polynesian village, most playing multiple roles. From Isabell Monk O'Connor and Suzanne Warmanen (both volunteer fundraisers) to Susanna Stahlmann as sweet Belle and Kris Nelson as Bob Cratchit, this "Carol" sings.