The Guthrie uncorks a bubbly 'Carol'

  • Article by: ROHAN PRESTON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 25, 2011 - 10:23 AM

REVIEW: Is "A Christmas Carol" becoming a Christmas comedy?

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A bewhiskered J.C. Cutler tackles Scrooge in this year’s Guthrie production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Is "A Christmas Carol" becoming a Christmas comedy?

It sometimes looked that way at Wednesday's opening at the Guthrie Theater, the second year that Joe Dowling has applied his light touch to the classic. In his laughter-maximizing, pyrotechnic pastiche of styles, Dowling has amplified the humor in Crispin Whittell's witty adaptation from the novella by Charles Dickens.

The atmosphere is still Dickensian, as conveyed by Christopher Akerlind's gauzy lighting, Mathew LeFebvre's pre-Victorian costumes and Walt Spangler's massive set of a London facade streetscape. But the music-infused production, which nods to Victor Hugo and Gilbert and Sullivan, is funnier, broader and more emotionally varied than in years past.

Even a post-intermission mechanical delay barely slowed the energy of the production that joined the holiday-selling frenzy by having a pre-Black Friday opening.

Scrooge (the very capable J.C. Cutler) is a grubby miser who measures people's value entirely by money. He is fortunate to have the ghosts of his partner, Marley (Bob Davis) as well as Christmases past, present and future, show him the error of his myopia. The Ghost of Christmas Past (a glistening Tracey Maloney, dropping in like Glinda from "The Wizard of Oz," which you can see over at the Children's Theatre), conducts him through his childhood memories. The Ghost of Christmas Present (big-spirited Robert O. Berdahl, who flies in like Father Christmas) shows Scrooge the effects of his actions and how he is regarded by employee Bob Cratchit (trembling Kris Nelson), and nephew Fred (a magnanimous John Catron). The silent Ghost of Christmas Future shows him his potential fate.

This "Carol" is more filled out and more contemporary. One character says that the wealthy would prefer to be called "job creators" instead of "rich." We also learn more about what happens to Belle (Kathryn Lawrey), Scrooge's one true love who leaves him.

Last year Daniel Gerroll delivered a Scrooge that was far more snippy than Cutler's, whose innate goodness comes through even when he barks at alms-seekers. But I rather like the hunger to be good that Cutler brings to the misanthrope.

The show's funniest actors include Angela Timberman, who returns as Merriweather, Scrooge's besotted house-keeper, She is wry, dry and very funny, delivering with spot-on comic time. Nathaniel Fuller also does a wonderful turn as the drunken teacher. The production has a village's worth of actors, including Virginia S. Burke as Mrs. Cratchit, Lee Mark Nelson as Fezziwig, Isabell Monk O'Connor as Mrs. Dilber and Suzanne Warmanen as busty Mrs. Fezziwig. Actors Summer Hagen, Emily Gunyou Halaas and Anna Reichert bring high spirits as Fezziwig daughters.

All in all, "Carol" is a bubbly offering for the holidays.

  • A CHRISTMAS CAROL

    What: Adapted from Charles Dickens by Crispin Whittell. Directed by Joe Dowling.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 1 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 1 & 7 p.m. Sun. Ends Dec. 30.

    Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis.

    Tickets: $29-$73. 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org.

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