Review of Theatre Calgary's A Christmas Carol; November 26 - December 24, 2015 at the Max Bell Theatre, Arts Commons in Calgary, AB.

Theatre Calgary's A Christmas Carol celebrates the true magic of Christmas  

Charles Dickens' timeless tale reminds us how we can keep the Christmas spirit alive throughout the year. 

The Christmas season is in full swing and what better way to celebrate the holidays than Theatre Calgary’s beloved stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. In its 29th year entertaining Calgary audiences, Theatre Calgary’s masterpiece is better than ever this year, refreshed with some new talent as well as continuing to feature long-time mainstays such as Stephen Hair in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Attending A Christmas Carol is a holiday tradition that I have appreciated from a young age, since I had the pleasure of seeing the show each year with my elementary and junior high schools. In addition, several kids that I was in Young Canadians with or knew through the dance competition and Kiwanis music festival circuits were regularly in the cast and I always got a kick of seeing them in the show. Back then the production was a little different. It was a little darker and I remember the sets and costumes being very Victorian era influenced.

Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Stephen Hair (front) is visited by Jacob Marley's crew on Christmas eve. Photo courtesy of the Calgary Herald. 

About a decade ago, the production was refreshed under the masterful direction of Dennis Garnhum. This current production is equally as wonderful as the previous, offering the gorgeous sets, costumes and outstanding theatricality that audiences have come to expect. Garnhum keeps the rhythm of the show running at a steady pace, which is excellent for the attention spans of children – and (let’s be honest), many attention-challenged adults.

One of the terrific aspects of the show includes the incorporation of the illusion of ice skating on an outdoor pond. In my opinion, the wonderful image of the cast on “ice skates” on the pond during the play’s heart-warming ending has arguably skated its way to becoming an iconic holiday memory for many people in this city.

The cast of A Christmas Carol gather together to ice skate in the show's heartwarming ending. Photo courtesy of Jose Soriano. 

Despite the outstanding production values of the show, the heart of A Christmas Carol continues to lie in the first-rate performances onstage. I was a little upset at first when I heard that Haysam Kadri would not be making his return this year as Bob Cratchit. The absence of Haysam’s much appreciated portrayal of Tiny Tim’s loving father left big shoes to fill. Thankfully, another well-respected Calgary actor, Karl H. Sine has filled them with his brilliance. Fresh off his critically acclaimed performance in Theatre Calgary’s The Crucible, Sine brings so much genuine warmth, sensitivity and heart to his portrayal of Bob Cratchit, that it was hard to hold back tears when he and the Cratchit family visited Tiny Tim’s grave during the Spirit of Christmas Future’s section.

Speaking of Tiny Tim, kudos to young Annabel Beames, whom I believe is the first girl I’ve seen play the role. I thought this young actress did an excellent job of delivering her lines with great projection and sincerity. Another delightful addition to the cast this year is Tanaj Williams in the role of Dick Wilkens, one of the charity collectors who infuriates old Ebenezer Scrooge. Many Calgary audiences fondly remember Williams from his numerous performances in local musicals, most notably his portrayal of Seaweed in Storybook Theatre’s production of Hairspray. William’s lovely stage presence serves his big-hearted and somewhat naïve character well.

It was also great to see Joe Perry in the role of the Spirit of Christmas Future. Last seen as a pot-smoking teenager involved in a drug-induced murder cover-up in Alberta Theatre Projects’ The Circle, Perry’s performance as the ominous and somewhat terrifying Spirit of Christmas Future is such a great opportunity for Perry to showcase his versatility.

Back in action again is the always gorgeous performance of Allison Lynch in the role of the Spirit of Christmas Past. It is always such a pleasure to hear Lynch’s angelic singing voice and it’s so cute to see her try to cheer up grumpy Scrooge as they sail over the night sky on a flying window frame.

The Spirit of Christmas Past (Allison Lynch) takes Scrooge on a journey back to his youth. Photo courtesy of Trudie Lee. 

Also quite pleasing are Decan O’Reilly and Calgary’s first lady of the stage, the incomparable Elizabeth Stepowski-Tarhan as the adorable Mr. and Mrs. Fizziwig. Their infectious charm is such a delight to see onstage. The annual Fezziwig Christmas party is always very enjoyable, highlighted by a high-spirited song and dance number by the ensemble. Hats off to dance captain Jamie Konchak, who also plays Mrs. Cratchit, for keeping the number clean and polished, while still allowing the actors to showcase their own unique characterizations.

The annual FIZZING party is always a blast! Photo courtesy of Theatre Calgary.

Also much appreciated is the dashing performance of Braden Griffiths as Scrooge’s young nephew, Fred. Griffiths is so sweet and charming in his role, I could hear wistful sighs from audience members!

But of course, the star of the show is the beloved Stephen Hair in his iconic portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge. From his grumpy outbursts of “Bah Humbug” and his condescending scolding of poor Bob Cratchit, to his heartbreaking reminiscing of his memories of his ill-fated sister Fran, and his transformation into a happy and kind Scrooge, Hair continues to unleash his theatrical magic for our enjoyment. It is stunning to watch Hair as he lifts one of the world’s most famous literature characters off the pages of A Christmas Carol, and onto the Max Bell Theatre stage every year.

Stephen Hair brings the classic literature character of Ebenezer Scrooge to life every year. Photo courtesy of David Cooper.

Make no mistake – Hair’s portrayal of Scrooge is no two-dimensional caricature of an old bag who learns the errors of his ways and smartens up. Hair brings humour, vulnerability, heart and soul to his version of Scrooge. His performance resonates with audiences and reminds us that we can all fall into the same trap as Scrooge if we’re not careful. If we let our careers overshadow our personal lives and if we lose touch with the things that really matter, then we too can lose out on life and let precious opportunities slip past us.

Thank you to Theatre Calgary for bringing such magic into the lives of so many Calgarians. The show reminds us all how we can keep the Christmas spirit alive every day of the year by being kind and sensitive to others, and by sharing our hearts and spirits – the most precious things we have.

Theatre Calgary's A Christmas Carol is a treasured piece of art that continues to touch and resonate with every generation. For me, it's not quite Christmas each year until I've had the pleasure of watching this timeless classic. Merry Christmas!

Catch A Christmas Carol at the Max Bell Theatre until December 24. Visit Theatre Calgary's website for ticket information.