REVIEW: The Guthrie’s A Christmas Carol

Rushing up to the Guthrie’s riverside entrance after dodging hordes of football fans jockeying for the scant parking spaces available so close to the stadium, I hardly had time to reflect on the fact that I was bringing my daughter to her first performance of A Christmas Carol. We’ve seen plenty of shows together over the years, but there’s something about spending a few hours with miserly old Mr. Scrooge that transforms a simple act of going to the theater into a Holiday Tradition. Traditions are the touchstones we rely on to mark the passage of time, even if they blur together and become noticeable only by their absence. Indeed, as so many parts of our lives were disrupted over the past three years, it becomes all the more important to seek out and rekindle the things that will form the foundations of traditions in the years to come.

Driven by a desire to improve the situations of children and workers suffering from the deprivations of the Industrial Revolution, what makes Charles Dickens’s subversive novella all the more compelling is how he used an obscure religious observance to champion his cause. When Dickens published A Christmas Carol in 1843, the very idea of celebrating Christmas itself was only just beginning to evolve from a practice that was often banned by conservative church authorities because of its association with pagan winter solstice rites. Whether the idea behind Scrooge’s transformation was entirely secular or religious in nature, it’s hard to think of a more universally appealing narrative than about a man coming to see the spiritual and societal benefits of generosity and charity toward those around him.

Now in its 48th year, the Guthrie’s annual production of A Christmas Carol is back on stage and is more dynamic than ever. Patrons who attended performances of the show last year will notice a more fully-realized set after supply chain disruptions impeded the completion of several elements. Nearly every scene features characters singing snippets or whole verses of traditional English carols, which blend into the story to infuse the air with a festive mood. First timers will enjoy the spooky-yet-funny elements of this holiday ghost story, but be ready with a steadying hand during the more intense scenes, as the costume and lighting designers manage to create a truly haunting visage in the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

As we face down another pandemic-tinged winter, mask-wearing is optional on most nights, but is mandatory during Sunday performances for those who prefer to play it safe. An adaptive performance for sensitive audiences is also available.

A Christmas Carol is at the Guthrie Theater through December 31, 2022. Tickets start at $20 but prices go up as the season progresses, so act quickly.

photo by Dan Norman