Ebenezer Scrooge can have fun, too, you know.
True, Dickens' misanthropic miser must first be frightened into his humanistic awakening by ghosts who lead him on a conversion tour. But isn't that better than dying rich and miserable with your chained, restless soul wandering the afterlife for eternity?
For its 49th edition of "A Christmas Carol," the Guthrie Theater has juiced up its holiday show's levity and spirit. The production that opened Friday in Minneapolis is more festive, with added interstitial music, sweetened joy and, yes, more laughs.
There's also more stage business in Addie Gorlin-Han's remounting of the slimmed-down version that Joseph Haj set at the Guthrie over the past couple of years. That Chekhov-leaning production, on which Gorlin-Han assisted, also had joy and light, but both were more muted on Matt Saunders' abstracted Victorian set.
The small changes in this iteration, which Haj also worked on after Gorlin-Han delivered a baby a week before opening, makes it more of the season.
Composer Jane Shaw's amped-up music includes carols, ditties and compositions with tolling bells to remind us not simply of the timeline the ghosts have for visiting Scrooge but also of the miser's own mortality. These choral bits give the show the kind of lift that only music can.
The added humor in this iteration of "Carol" also is organic, not forced. The laughs come mostly from building on, polishing and squeezing small moments. An example: Tyler Michaels King and Olivia Wilusz wear witty facial expressions as they seek alms from a scary Scrooge.
The cast, dressed in period costumes originally created by Toni-Leslie James and lit vividly by Yi Zhao, finds gestures that underscore, and sometimes contradict, select lines.
Matthew Saldivar, who plays Scrooge, moves with ease and surefooted power for his third year in this staging of Lavina Jadhwani's adaptation of the Charles Dickens' novella. He brings such telegraphic physicality and clear intellect to Scrooge that it feels as if he has made the miser transparent.
We can see through him from the very beginning as Saldivar makes us feel how Scrooge's sharp focus on the bottom line has shrunk his soul. Sitting at his desk with his safe opened behind him to show stacks of currency and bars of gold, Scrooge is chilly as his nephew Fred (Eric Sharp) visits.
Darkness is cheap and winter heat is wasteful, he intimates. After looking disapprovingly on his coat-covered clerk Bob Cratchit (John Catron), a peeved Scrooge grabs the hot coals out of the stove by hand in one of the show's funny burns.
Most of the cast has been with "Carol" for three years. And some, such as former Scrooges Nathaniel Fuller and Charity Jones, much longer. They work cohesively, delivering in the same physical language and inhabiting the same Victorian realm.
Kurt Kwan is cool as the Ghost of Christmas Past, alighting from the ether with measured reserve. Greta Oglesby steps into the Ghost of Christmas Present with a similar warmth and magnanimity as Regina Marie Williams, who previously played the role. And Andy Frye is loudly expressive as the silent Ghost of Christmas Future. (Kudos to the props and puppet designer who created such a terrifying Burning Man-style figure.)
The real light of the show comes after Scrooge's transformation. He skips with schoolboy's joy and his voice rises with newfound enthusiasm for kindness, empathy and understanding for those he had previously called "the surplus population."
The show gently reminds us that Scrooge is not some distant figure from the age when rapacious robber barons built their empires. There are titans today who can also hear things anew in this "Carol," a show that holds the attention with its haunting concern for humankind.
'A Christmas Carol'
Who: Adapted by Lavina Jadhwani. Original direction by Joseph Haj. Remounted by Addie Gorlin-Han.
Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed. & Fri., 1 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 1 & 7 p.m. Sun. Ends Dec. 30.
Tickets: $24-$134. 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org.