Why is it called A Christmas Carol? Why not A Christmas Tale or A Christmas Story (a not-so-slight nod to yet another Christmas classic)? Carols are meant to be sung, and while many versions of the story include music, this masterpiece isn’t a song, so why the name? As it turns out, Charles Dickens hoped A Christmas Carol would be a story people would want to tell every year, over and over, the way they sing Christmas carols.
Dickens got his wish. Each year, the tale is told and retold in many media. Whether you decide to watch it with Muppets, Patrick Stewart, or at one of the many local theatres that produce performances each year, people continue to come together for the tale of Scrooge being visited by three spirits and learning that his greed has kept him from love and joy. This year, the production at A Noise Within is the version to go see!
This faithful, but fresh, adaptation by Geoff Elliott (who also does a fantastic job as Scrooge and directs alongside Julia-Rodriguez Elliott) adds humor, whimsy, and no small amount of spectacle. Upon entering the space, you are immediately immersed in the set with Marley’s chains looming over the seats and the old-timey lightbulbs hanging from the catwalk above. I found myself astounded at the creativity in the spectacle—small details continued to pop out at me as I waited for the show to begin, each bringing a moment of joyous wonder about their significance and future use.
More beautiful and fun spectacles came throughout the show; the ghost presentations were especially creative. All the introductions and character choices for the spirits are mesmerizing. Equally so for each spirit’s performance: Trisha Miller captures that ethereal presence of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Anthony Adu’s joy and booming voice amplify his magnificent costume for the Ghost of Christmas Present. And Jose Donado wordlessly captures the essence of the Ghost of Christmas Future. His movement and costume reminded me of some of the best work in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal.
Gushing over Angela Balogh Calin’s costume work here could fill another whole review, as each costume so fully fits each character. The lighting and set design were also beautiful, and more than anything, they were fluid. Transitions happened with hardly a notice and performers quickly became part of the sets, whether they were holding birds around trees or pushing platforms, it was all so seamless. Large set pieces entered in and out without a hitch.
The artful projections along with the more atmospheric lighting provided the perfect tone throughout, allowing for darker beats and scenes including a Tim Burton-esque song as well as lighter and happier moments when called for. While not a musical, this adaptation included multiple songs, which are cleverly choreographed and staged. Thrust stages are difficult to block, but A Noise Within has mastered its staging and knows how to move its actors in a way that no matter where an audience member is, they can enjoy the show.
The entire cast clearly gives their all in this performance, with many people playing multiple characters in the ensemble. Each actor stayed in character, whether they were the center of attention or not. Even the youngest actors exceeded expectations. (Many of the younger ensemble members have attended A Noise Within’s summer camp, and it’s clear from this production that there’s great educational work going on.)
It was also nice to see such a wonderfully diverse cast, making the story also feel more updated and familiar, rather than necessarily a tale of old England. In fact, the mood of the whole piece felt more inclusive and open due to this colorblind casting, as well as more relevant to a world with growing inequity and worsening wealth gap. Greed is ever-present and stories like this are a great reminder of what’s really important.
A Christmas Carol runs through December 24 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 7:00pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena. Tickets range from $42 to $87 and can be purchased here.