As holiday traditions go, it’s difficult to match the enduring a celebration of self-discovery and personal redemption found in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The Guthrie’s annual production is a joyous rendition that hits all the right notes. You feel the joy in Fezziwig’s warehouse, watching the revelry of the young, optimistic Scrooge courting the lovely Belle just as you feel the anxiety and desperation of the Cratchits contemplating Tiny Tim’s ill health. With a story we all know so well, the show moves the scenes along briskly, all the better to squeeze in crowd-pleasing embellishments such as large, choreographed dances and a great many choral numbers to put you in the holiday spirit.
That isn’t to say that they couldn’t have tightened up a few scenes—the blindfolded antics at Fred’s party, for example, serve no discernable purpose—in favor of a deeper exploration of what led Scrooge to drive Belle out of his life so soon after they got engaged. How did he go from an optimistic and energetic young man to a bitter old miser so quickly? Was it just greed, or something more complex? Why does he avoid the company of his nephew, Fred, the son of his beloved little sister? We never get to find out, even though this would allow us to more fully understand the man who’s return from the brink of eternal suffering we celebrate so eagerly. Alas, you don’t dress the kids up and plop them in velvet-lined seats for a two-hour dissertation on the psycho-social effects of anxiety and compulsive personality disorders. You bring them to see people decked out in elaborate Victorian costumes and hear about the virtues of kindness and generosity.
The perennial joy of A Christmas Carol is in the climactic finale, as Scrooge bounds through the streets of London and into the Cratchit’s humble home. Full of energy, light, and humor, there’s no wonder it’s a multi-generational family tradition, but with some dark and foreboding scenes and a few startling effects, it may be best to leave the littlest ones at home with the grandparents for a few years.
A Christmas Carol is at The Guthrie Theater through December 30, 2016. Tickets start at $15 but get more expensive as you get closer to Christmas.