As someone who's seen A Christmas Carol at least a dozen times in recent history, I could easily bah-humbug my way through any version of Dickens' classic. But at the Saturday matinee of Children's Theatre of Madison's A Christmas Carol, as I looked around at the children who filled the theater, it wasn't too hard to suppress any possible humbugs. With its heavy, velvet curtain in shades of red and walls decorated in green, Overture's Capitol Theater makes a magical venue for A Christmas Carol. As the lights dimmed, the audience was ready to be lost in holiday spirit.
The show moved quickly through the first three visiting spirits -- spooky Marley laden with chains, the the Spirit of Christmas Past with her lovely mischief, and jovial Christmas Present. All three were well-cast and well-costumed. Jacob Marley, played by Donavon Armbruster, appeared as if from thin air and was credibly remorseful for the selfish life he once led. As the Spirit of Christmas Past, Clare Haden found a nice balance between cherubic and mischievous and was a beautiful presence on stage, angelically draped in white and gold. As the Spirit of Christmas Present, Ray Pearson was a perfect fit for the role -- jolly and strong as he showed Scrooge what he's overlooked in his narrow everyday life.
It was during the visit of the Spirit of the Future that things seemed to drag a bit. A few moments seemed unnecessary -- excessive banter between Old Joe and the women who were selling off dead Scrooge's things, for instance.
But overall, the audience remained engaged. There were lots of whispered questions, and a couple happy babies babbled throughout the show. At exciting moments, you could see little heads popping up all across the darkened theater as the children scooted forward to get a better look at the stage.
The strongest scene of A Christmas Carol came near the end, when all the ghosts had left, and Scrooge, played by American Players Theatre's James Ridge, found himself alone in his room on Christmas day. Ridge's Scrooge is joyful to the point of craziness, and for the first time, we were sure that Scrooge is really a changed man. As he jumped up and down on his bed, he was a little boy again. As the kids in the audience laughed at Scrooge's antics, surely some of the adults made silent resolutions to be less bah-humbugy and more joyful this holiday season. After all, weren't we all children once?
It's the children -- both in the audience and onstage -- who are the heart of this production. From Julian Engle's quintessential Tiny Tim to the kid sitting behind me who, after the curtain fell, asked if he could come see the show again next year, this production exemplifies CTM's commitment to theater for all ages. For local families, CTM's A Christmas Carol is sure to make great memories for many years to come.