Quote of the Day: I was drawn to Lavina Jadhwani’s beautiful adaptation because it carefully follows a willing (if ill-equipped) Scrooge on his journey from isolation to community. Joseph Haj, Guthrie Theater Artistic Director, and director of this production of A Christmas Carol, adapted from Charles Dickens’ classic novel by Lavina Jadhwani. 

Regina Marie Williams (Ghost of Christmas Present), Matthew Saldivar (Ebenezer Scrooge), Lily Birkholz (Tiny Tim), John Catron (Bob Cratchit) Photo by Jenny Graham

I have been waiting more than two years to bring my friend Krista and her girls to the Guthrie Theater for their annual production of A Christmas Carol. Attending the show had become a tradition for me and my boys, now I wanted to share that magic with her and her daughters, who are like family to me. Another friend joined us with her daughter and two nieces. We had five kids with us, ages 9-14. We started the day having a delicious lunch at Bad Waitress in Minneapolis, then exploring the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), a favorite place for all of us. We got to the Guthrie early and explored the various levels, the Endless Bridge, and the Amber Room on the 9th floor. Krista said, “This is a magical place.” I thought, yes, and you haven’t even seen the show, yet. 

We sat down early to enjoy the atmosphere of the theater and to read the program. The start was a little delayed, likely because everyone needs to go through the vaccination screening before entering. Also, masks are required during the entire time you’re in the building and watching the performance. Around 7:35, director Haj came out on stage to welcome us back to the Guthrie Theater after a long hiatus from live performances, and expressed how thrilled everyone was to be back doing live performances. They’d had only one preview show, compared to their usual five or six, so he asked us to be patient if there were any technical delays. Sure, no problem, we’re just happy to be here. Then, the land acknowledgement recording came on and the request to turn off cell phones. The lights dimmed, and someone yelled out in the section to our right. The lights came back up. It seemed, at first that the patron was angry over masks, or people not following the rules. It was confusing. I heard words like “mockery” and “doing an English play,” and screams of “Macbeth,” a way to curse the theater and performance. Although the ushers were quick to respond, the person refused to leave. When other audience members yelled things, or used their cellphones, the tension escalated. It was upsetting. Many people walked out of the theater. Our friend who had brought her daughter and young nieces told us she was leaving. I thought she had left for the night, and I felt bad. The disturbance lasted about 30 minutes. One of the ushers stood in front of the person and seemed to talk them down, but they wouldn’t leave until the Minneapolis police (four of them) showed up. They were escorted out without further incident. Many people cheered. I sat quietly. I believe the person was having a psychotic episode and the crowd only made it worse. 

I can only imagine how the actors felt, who were kept literally in dark about what was going on. When they entered and started their lines, I felt a collective sigh as people settled into watching this beloved classic. Jadhwani’s adaptation feels more thoughtful than ones I’ve seen in the past. I did enjoy the big, colorful production that the Guthrie presented, pre-Covid. Fezziwig’s party was particularly joyful. But, this production followed well the pre-drama, the isolation from a pandemic, and the cautious entry that we’re taking into the world. It feels like we’re all walking on fragile ground.

Scrooge is an isolated, angry person. It takes a scary night of spirits to show him the light. Once he gets outside of himself and truly sees others and their struggles, he learns how important it is to live in community with others, to help where he can, and to accept help when he needs it.

Kurt Kwan (Ghost of Christmas Past) and Matthew Saldivar (Ebenezer Scrooge) Photo by Jenny Graham

The magic of the theater saved the day. Krista and the girls said they were mesmerized by this production. The set (Matt Saunders) is fascinating with panels moving seamlessly in and out and across the stage. Ghosts drop from the ceiling, and the family pops up from the trapdoor in the floor. The costumes (Toni-Leslie James) are gorgeous. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Regina Marie Williams) was particularly stunning. The lighting (Yi Zhao) and Sound (Mikaal Sulaiman) create the atmosphere, which is mystical and dreamy, not too scary for the younger audience members. 

The addition of music to this show makes it special. It’s called A Christmas Carol, after all. Music Director Mark Hartman, Composer Jane Shaw, and Choreographer Regina Peluso provide the added magic. The cast sings some traditional carols, “Here We Come A-Caroling” and “God Bless You, Merry Gentleman,” to name a few. And, there were a couple that seemed new to me. They are original songs, including “Ding, Dong, Oyez, Oyez,” “All Through This Hour,” and “Ring Out the Old,” the second verse of which is a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I was fascinated by their use in telling this story. Actors stood in a clock formation, moved as the hands on a clock move, and gave us the sense of time passing, the clock ticking, and the urgency of the moment. Fezziwig’s party is still fun and filled with music and laughter. The dance off between Rush Benson and Tyler Michaels King during that scene was a highlight for me. 

The cast of A Christmas Carol, Fezziwig’s Party. Photos: Jenny Graham

Matthew Saldivar comes to us from Broadway, and many other paces, to portray a slightly younger than usual Ebenezer Scrooge. He owned the role! I like how he stood back and watched his story unfold for him, sometimes mirroring the actions of his younger self interacting with his past and present acquaintances. The show is populated by a thoughtfully diverse cast who are all tremendous performers.

Isa Guitian (Belle), Clay Man Soo (Young Scrooge) and Matthew Saldivar (Ebenezer Scrooge) Photos: Jenny Graham

I would like to see this production again, minus the pre-show drama that put me in a bad mood, to immerse myself in the story, the subtleties and nuances, to watch the chorus again performing the clock songs. Attending live theater is magical, especially when you are with friends or family, and making a trip to the Guthrie is a favorite holiday tradition.

You can see Lavina Jadhwani’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol, directed by Joe Haj, at the Guthrie Theater through Dec. 27, 2021. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What are some of your holiday traditions?