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Scrooge U: Part XXXVIII -- Ballet version of "A Christmas Carol" has two left feet

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Scrooge U: Part XXXVIII -- Ballet version of "A Christmas Carol" has two left feet

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Over the past 37 installments of JHM's "Scrooge U" series, we've shown that "A Christmas Carol" is a surprisingly flexible property. That even when you change Ebenezer Scrooge's race, sex & nationality or shift this holiday tale's setting from 1840s London to New Hampshire during the Depression or modern day LA, you can usually still wind up with a very entertaining adaptation of Charles Dickens' original story.

Mind you, the key to putting together a successful new version of "A Christmas Carol" seems to be that you have to trust your source material. As in: You shouldn't make any unnecessary "improvements" to the storyline. More importantly, you also shouldn't deviate all that much from the blueprint that Dickens established back in 1843. If you do so, you run the risk of throwing the plot out of whack or -- worse -- make your audience feel sympathetic for the wrong characters in the show.

Copyright 2005 Arthaus Musik

Case in point: The Northern Ballet Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol." Which tries to tell this classic holiday tale through the language of dance ... Unfortunately -- in trying to create some semi-logical moments for Scrooge, Bob Crachet et al to pirouette & jete over the course of this show -- Dickens' well-known plot gets garbled. Or -- in some instances -- just gets tossed out the window entirely.

Take -- for example -- the first scene of the first act. Which basically has the entire ballet corps for "A Christmas Carol" showing up outside of the offices of Scrooge & Marley. It seems that this sign-carrying mob has stopped by the counting house in order to insist that London's biggest miser make some sort of contribution to the poor.

Unfortunately, Scrooge (Jeremy Kerridge) isn't there when this group arrives. You see, according to this ballet's prologue, Ebenezer is still out in the graveyard overseeing the burial of his recently deceased partner, Jacob Marley. Which (as you might understand) makes you feel somewhat sympathetic toward Scrooge and all. Given that he's just experienced this loss.

Whereas Bob Crachit (William Walker) ... Instead of being his usual meek & good-hearted self in this production, Bob's a bit of a flake. Within seconds of answering the counting house's door when that mob comes a-knocking, Crachit is leading this crowd in a rousing rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

It's just about this time that Ebenezer finally arrives at his office and finds Bob outside playing choral director to that mob in the street. This sight -- of course -- infuriates Scrooge. So he snatches a sign out of one of the do-gooders' hands and cracks it over his knee. Ebenezer then shoos the crowd away and leads Crachit back inside the counting house. Where that his clerk can hopefully begin working on Scrooge's books.

Copyright 2005 Arthaus Musik

But even when he's back inside the office, Crachit can not keep his Christmas spirit contained. So what most productions of "A Christmas Carol" consider to be this tiny, throw-away moment (I.E. Bob raising his hands to the candle over his desk in order to warm them. Which establishes how truly cold Ebenezer keeps the counting house), choregrapher Massimo Morricone turns into this elaborate solo. With Crachit leaping all over the counting house, trying to get warm. Until Scrooge finally barks at Bob. Which sends his clerk scurrying back to his desk.

But then the door bursts open and who comes dancing into the office but Ebenezer's nephew, Fred (Peter Parker) and his fiancee. Supposedly Fred has come by to invite his uncle to Christmas dinner. But given the disruption that these two cause, what with drawing Crachit away from his desk again to come join them in a dance, then draping poor Scrooge in holiday garland (When it's clear that all the old guy wants to do is be left alone so he can then get some work done) ... Well, your sympathies now begin sliding in the wrong direction.

Copyright 2005 Arthaus Musik

By that I mean: You know you're watching a particularly misbegotten production of "A Christmas Carol" when it's the people who are celebrating the season that you find most annoying. Rather than Ebenezer Scrooge.

From this point forward, we then begin moving through all of the standard "Christmas Carol" moments. The ghost of Jacob Marley telling Scrooge that he has to change his ways, then revealing that three holiday spirits will be visiting Ebenezer that very night

Copyright 2005 Arthaus Musik

This is -- of course -- followed by the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past (Lorena Vidal). Who then spirits Scrooge back to old Fezziwig's Christmas ball. Where Ebenezer then relives that horrible moment where Belle (Jayne Regan) breaks off her engagement with Young Scrooge (Fergus Logan) because this miser-in-training now loves money more than he loves her.

Now keep in mind that this entire section of "A Christmas Carol" is told without a single word of dialogue. All of these extremely complex plot points are now supposed to be communicated strictly through the language of dance. Which (not faulting the skill of the dancers involved in this production. They clearly are a very talented bunch) doesn't happen.

Copyright 2005 Arthaus Musik

So -- as this ballet version of "A Christmas Carol" goes along -- you get further & further disconnected from the plot. Until (by the time Scrooge gets to the Crachit house with the Ghost of Christmas Present [Royce Neagle]) you just don't care anymore what happens to these characters.

Copyright 2005 Arthaus Musik

At this point, the only entertainment you'll get from watching this DVD will come in questioning the choreographer's increasingly odd choices. Which include portraying the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be as an actual angel of death and then turning the undertaker, the housekeeper and the laundress' trip to Old Joe's Rag & Bone shop into this elaborately choreographed orgy.

Copyright 2005 Arthaus Musik

According to the writing on the back of the box, the Northern Ballet Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol" is only supposed to be 86 minutes long. But given how long it seems to take Ebenezer to finally get around to giving Bob the bird and/or start dancing with Fred & his wife ...

Copyright 2005 Arthaus Musik

... You swear that Arthaus Musik must have left a zero off of that running time. For the ballet version of "A Christmas Carol" feels like it's at least 860 minutes long.

So unless you have a lot of time on your hands and/or feel the need to be bored to death by a ballet that (to be blunt) does a pretty poor job of adapting "A Christmas Carol" to the stage, I'd suggest that you take a pass on this particular version of Charles Dickens' classic tale. For this is one ballet that can't help but trip over its own two left feet.

What's that you say? I sound like a grouch? Well, wait 'til you see who plays Ebenezer Scrooge in the "Christmas Carol" adaptation that we'll be discussing in tomorrow's "Scrooge U" article. Then you'll see what a real grouch sounds like.

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  • This reminds me of Geraint Evans in the Welsh opera version some years ago. Its not easy to adapt this plot to certain genres because you lose the message and pace and thats whats happened in this instance. The very odd 'Stingiest Man in Town' soundtrack has just been re-released though (this became an animation as well). I don't know whether you still have this to do or it didn't get picked up on your radar because of its title but its quite a popular American version.Perhaps, along with 'Reasons to be Happy' and some of the silent ones, you can revise your series next year.....

  • It's mostly been forgotten by history, but Rod Serling did a version of the story entitled "Carol for Another Christmas." It was part of a United Nations series of programs, as I recall, and had a contemptuous, racist and rich man taken to the past, present and future. I only remember the future part, with a maniacal character decrying anyone joining together for anything, trying to eliminate the idea of "We" and bring the whole world down to "Me."

    I believe this has only been seen at the Museum of Television; it was never commercially released or rebroadcast. Which might make it hard for you to even review. However, I thought I'd remind you anyway.

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