Christmas keeper

It’s the most wonderful time of the year at the Denver Center

Jennifer M. Koskinen

The world has turned all red and green. Every kid is on his or her best behavior. Christmas tree lots are springing up like mushrooms after a hard rain and lights are twinkling on houses and businesses all over town. Love it or loathe it, the holidays are officially here.

For many keepers of Christmas (or heeders of Hanukkah), that means revisiting much-adored holiday entertainments. Whether it’s making a trip to Bedford Falls to remember why life’s so wonderful, searching for a Red Ryder BB gun or tagging along for some drunken larceny with a very bad Santa, it’s the time of year to watch and rewatch a favorite or two.

One of the oldest and most venerated Christmas yarns is, of course, A Christmas Carol. Ol’ Chuck Dickens couldn’t have known when he penned it back in 1843, but A Christmas Carol would enjoy instant success and become one of the most beloved and enduring Christmas stories ever.

Similarly, the Denver Center Theatre Company couldn’t have known it back in 1990 when it brought forth its first production of A Christmas Carol, but it was creating its very own heartfelt and heartwarming holiday classic. The DCTC’s A Christmas Carol quickly became and still remains a joyous December tradition for people throughout the Denver-Boulder metroplex.

Combining a Christmas fable with a ghost story, A Christmas Carol tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. A bitter, nasty, skinflint of the first order, Scrooge (Philip Pleasants) prizes money above all else. Charity and its seasonal embodiment, Christmas, have no place in Scrooge’s life. He even decries having to give his only employee, Bob Cratchit (James Michael Reilly), a paid day off each year on Christmas Day.

Then, on Christmas Eve, the Earthbound spirit of Scrooge’s deceased business partner, Jacob Marley (Jeffrey Roark), appears and tells Scrooge that his only hope for redemption is to turn his back on miserliness and embrace his fellow man. To help Scrooge see the error of his ways, Marley sends three specters to scare Scrooge straight: the Ghost of Christmas Past (Stephanie Cozart), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Leonard E. Barrett Jr.) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come (Allen Dorsey).

Revisiting the happier days of his youth, realizing his biggest mistake was choosing acquisitiveness over the love of his soulmate Belle (Courtney Capek), witnessing the happiness a simple life provides to his nephew Fred (M. Scott McLean) and Bob Cratchit’s family, and being shown a potential future in which he dies alone and unmourned, Scrooge (Spoiler alert!) repents and embarks on a life of kindness and generosity.

Only the Grinchiest of holiday-haters will “Bah. Humbug!” the DCTC’s A Christmas Carol. Everyone else will find something to love. Pleasants’ finely honed and surprisingly funny take on Scrooge, Reilly’s supremely relatable Bob Cratchit and McLean’s buoyant nephew Fred are all performance highlights, and as in years past, Leslie O’Carroll takes the cake — and a stein of beer — as Mrs. Fezziwig.

The costume design by Kevin Copenhaver is wonderfully opulent and anchors the Victorian aesthetic. From the oversized top hats to the plaid skirts and brass buttons, the costumes often communicate the setting more than the set itself. This is not a criticism of Vicki Smith’s set design, which is dominated by two staircaseand-platform constructions that move on and off stage repeatedly, as much as it is an observation of its understated utility.

The evolution of the DCTC’s A Christmas Carol mirrors the past, present and future structure of the story itself. The first version, by Laird Williamson and Dennis Powers, that ran through 2004 was purely a play. The second (and current) version, by Richard Hellesen, initially added a few musical interludes to what was essentially still a play. In 2014, A Christmas Carol has morphed into a musical with as much or more of its run time dedicated to songs and dance numbers than to dialogue and character interaction. If the trend continues, the future will find DCTC audiences being treated to a full-blown, Broadway-style version of A Christmas Carol.

Who knows, maybe that’s what Kent Thompson and the rest of the company are angling for? Who wouldn’t want to get credit for engineering the definitive A Christmas Carol musical? Audiences certainly seem to be eating up David de Berry’s combination of Old World carols and original material as well as Christine Rowan’s choreography.

For me, though, as enjoyable as the DCTC’s increasingly musical take on A Christmas Carol is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the original, non-musical rendition. The Williamson/Powers production allowed the actors more room to work and the drama more room to breathe. This resulted in a less cluttered, more focused final product with a significantly bigger emotional punch than the show has today. If I were writing a letter to Santa, I’d ask him to bring back the old A Christmas Carol.