Nineteen months after shutting down because of the pandemic, the Guthrie Theater has returned with an all-new production of "A Christmas Carol." This 47th edition of its holiday staple is clean, lean and gorgeous.
It takes place on Matt Saunders' spacious and modern set and boasts colorful, snappy period costumes by Toni-Leslie James, cheery mood-setting music by composer Jane Shaw and Yi Zhao's haunting lighting.
Choregraphed with discreet gaiety by Regina Peluso, "Carol" feels like a welcome gift to a community still wobbling from the twin crucibles of the pandemic and the social justice reckoning.
Playwright Lavina Jadhwani is faithful in her adaptation of Charles Dickens' 1843 novella, which loses some of the flab that occasionally made earlier versions by Barbara Field and Crispin Whittell feel overstuffed. That includes the fizzy excesses of the Fezziwig party and, further back, puppets of Ali Baba and other characters from Scrooge's youth.
Jadhwani's efficient script is staged with cinematic lyricism by Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj. He deploys moving turntables and generous fog machines to create both seamless transitions and also a sublime sense of momentum within scenes. Haj has tapped a magnificent mosaic of faces and voices to narrate Scrooge's journey of transformation from miserable miser to cheerful humanitarian.
We should all be so blessed.
Broadway actor Matthew Saldivar, who has performed in "The Royal Family" and "The Canterbury Tales" at the Guthrie, infuses the misanthrope with empathy-inducing humanity. To be sure, he is still a cold, distempered figure but his Scrooge is not as wretched as uber-misers past. We see him less as a pitiable cartoon-like cretin trembling in his pajamas and more like someone we know, even ourselves.
This Scrooge has a shorter narrative arc and is eager for his own redemption, asking the spirits to conduct him on his transformative ghost tour. And what ghosts they are.
Regulars at the Guthrie's "Carol" are used to the apparition of Scrooge's partner Marley, seven years dead, emerging from the undercroft in electric sturm and drang. The frightening lighting and thunderclaps are still there (my theater companion grabbed hold of my arm the first time that well designed effect was used).
But in this latest version, Marley, played by Charity Jones like a chained, walking corpse, appears out of the headboard of Scrooge's bed — perhaps suggesting that the purgatory where Marley's spirit is casting about is on the same level as that of the living Scrooge?
Jones, who is chilling in the role, is one of two actors in "Carol" who previously played Scrooge. Nathaniel Fuller, the other, depicts Old Joe, the fence who buys the belongings of Scrooge once he has died.
Kurt Kwan's Ghost of Christmas Past descends with steely stolidness. His reserve is apt for a man of business. Although outfitted with the trimmings of a Christmas tree and also crowned like Mother Time, Regina Marie Williams' Ghost of Christmas Present feels like a schoolteacher. When the lights come up on her, she's sitting at a desk and summoning Scrooge as if he's an errant pupil.
One of the most striking design elements is the costume for the Ghost of Christmas Future (Rush Benson). The character has no lines but the costume, a Burning Man-style effigy with backward-facing articulated hoofed toes, speaks volumes of the ugliness in store for Scrooge if he does not change his ways.
The cast includes Guthrie regulars such as John Catron as put-upon Bob Cratchit, Paul de Cordova as Mr. Fezziwig, Cat Brindisi as the Charwoman, Summer Hagen as Laundress, Eric Sharp as nephew Fred and Tyler Michaels as an alms collector.
They are joined by the likes of China Brickey (Fred's wife), Isa Guitian (Belle), Emjoy Gavino (Mrs. Cratchit) and Rajané Katura (Fan) in re-establishing "Carol" as a rewarding standard for the holidays.
'A Christmas Carol'
Who: Adapted by Lavina Jadhwani. Directed by Joseph Haj.
Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 2nd Av. S., Mpls.
When: 6:30 p.m. Tue.-Wed., 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 1 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 7 p.m. Sun. Ends Dec. 27.
Tickets: $29-$134. 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org.
Protocol: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test. Masks required.