Those old tire-store Christmas records sure were good.
That thought came to mind while enjoying the Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s straight-up production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which opened at that the Fort Worth Community Arts Center last weekend.
A lot of baby boomers will remember the LPs of classic Christmas carols sold by both the Firestone and Goodyear chains in the 1960s (often for a buck). They featured the most standard of carols done by the great singers of the era like Julie Andrews, Bing Crosby, Andy Williams and Barbra Streisand.
The versions of the carols presented on those albums never tried to fix something that wasn’t broken. They offered extremely familiar, boilerplate readings of Christmas favorites.
Today, those collections might sound hopelessly pedestrian and more than a little bit corny. But, in their day, they helped establish the gold standard for how those tunes should be rendered, and they somehow made the lights on the family Christmas tree glow more brightly.
Much the same sort of description might be applied to SSG’s by-the-book reading of Dickens’ famous Yuletide ghost story. While most other productions of this classic offer some gimmicks or twists, like the addition of music or having Scrooge played by an actress rather than an actor, SSG chooses to stick to the basics.
This production, faithfully adapted from Dickens’ novel by Ed Monk and directed by SSG artistic directors Jason and Lauren Morgan, is your grandparents’ A Christmas Carol, and they make no apologies for that.
The venerable Delmar H. Dolbier, a regular on the SSG stage, gets an opportunity to step out of his usual supporting roles to bring his substantial talents to bear on a lead part as the irascible (but not irredeemable) miser Ebenezer Scrooge. He grumps and grouses appropriately in this role he knows well, but he also succeeds in conveying Scrooge’s joy at finding redemption.
He is supported by a well-prepared and able cast. There are few real standouts in the nicely balanced ensemble, but Christopher M. Hurt comes across especially well as Scrooge’s nephew, Fred.
As usual, the costuming by Lauren Morgan does an outstanding job of setting the period.
The shortcomings of the show are that it is played on a very simple set, it misses some good opportunities to use bits of music and sound effects to highlight certain moments, and its ambitious lighting plan, by Bryan Douglas, does not always flow smoothly enough.
On the whole, however, this production offers a good “first time” exposure to A Christmas Carol for the uninitiated, or a comfortable revisit for a Dickens traditionalist, because it so seldom strays from the most tried-and-true approaches to the material.
And it offers a highly user-friendly running time of about 90 minutes, thanks to the tidiness of Monk’s adaptation and the Morgans’ brisk direction.