Dec. 14 marked the premiere of A Christmas Carol - The Concert on PBS stations nationwide. Charles Dickens’s perennial ghost story of Ebenezer Scrooge gets a modern makeover as a multi-musical-style concert for a live audience.
Many people are most familiar with traditional performances of A Christmas Carol and the plot of the tale itself. It tells of the miserly Scrooge (Michael Aaron Lindner), whose faith in Christmas has waned. Three ghosts of Christmas (Kyle Scatliffe) lead Scrooge around town to such places as Fezziwig’s Ball, the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit (Scott Coulter), and even his own gravestone. By the end, Scrooge’s faith in the holiday is restored, to the amazement of Cratchit.
The PBS version takes this basic foundation and shakes things up, making for a magical, musical experience for kids of all ages.
Most importantly, it is the brainchild of composer Bob Christianson, who later teamed up with lyricist Alisa Hauser. Together, they brought this spectacular spectacle to life. It was originally filmed on stage for a live audience in Chicago, and then broadcast on PBS.
In an e-mail to The News-Letter, Christianson describes the beginning stages of this project and how he and Hauser kept the show’s momentum going.
“As of the time [Hauser and I] started writing the show [in 2009], as far as we could ‘Google,’ there was no other version of the story that was quite like ours. This is an orchestral concert first. . .It just happens to be telling a great story at the same time. It’s part stage play, part film score and part orchestra concert.”
Once this “hybrid concept,” play/musical/concert was settled on, the real challenged laid in rehearsing.
“As compared to rehearsing for a straight play or a musical, we literally had just a few days (3-4) to rehearse and block the show. The actors had to show up at the first rehearsal pretty much knowing their parts,”Christianson adds.
He explains that most of the actors are established or up-and-coming theater stars, but it is amazing how such a feat was achieved with so tight a deadline.
Despite this stress and uncertain schedule, Alisa Hauser was a very reliable and talented collaborator. Her lyrics and Christianson’s imaginative score are a musical match made in heaven.
“I’ve never had a collaboration with a lyricist that was so totally painless. We didn’t argue about one thing during the whole process. We just seemed to get ‘into the zone’ early and never left. She’s a dream collaborator,” Christianson wrote.
Judging by the resounding success of the show, their teamwork paid off. The actors are brilliant, but the music is so clearly the star of the show.
“No Trouble” is Christianson’s favorite song from the score. It is a quiet melody with a hint of Broadway sung by Bob Cratchit and following the death of Tiny Tim. Its peaceful melody and heartfelt lyrics have a raw emotion that deeply connects with the audience.
Similarly, “I Wear These Chains” is a clever, funny and bluesy tune in Act One shortly after Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former partner. Marley laments of his former life and the subsequent burdens of his “ghost-hood.” Audiences probably would not expect the electric guitar and drums to make an appearance in the song, but thankfully, they do. They emphasize the blues and add a layer of funk to an otherwise traditional song.
What really brings down the house, though, is the closing number, “God Bless Everyone,” when Scrooge’s positive transformation is complete. The song starts out with a mainly orchestral feel, loops into an appropriately celebration-like gospel anthem and then ends with a finale that could easily be mistaken for a Broadway musical’s.
According to Christianson, the audience’s dynamic at this point was incredible.
“When the audience gave us those incredibly long standing ovations, we knew that we had something special. The audience connected with the story and the performers. It was pure magic.”
Pure magic this show definitely is. Not only is the story of Scrooge endearing, but the artistic twists give to Dickens’s foundation also pave the way for a new Christmas tradition to be celebrated with each holiday season.
As for the concert’s future, Christianson confirms that it will air on PBS for two more years and that a tour is being planned. He hopes that the concert will eventually be shown yearly on PBS.
Visit www.achristmascaroltheconcert.com for more information about the show or to purchase the PBS-DVD, original concept album, or the CD of the show on iTunes.