What would Christmas be without Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol? According to the world's theater companies, not much. The classic story has been adapted into at least 30 different productions in the U.S. alone — from Broadway to one-man shows — and probably more if you count the adaptations by small, community theaters that are only done locally.
The reason, of course, is that everybody loves Dickens' masterpiece, even if we don't want to publicly admit it. But does that mean there's room in one town for two Christmas Carols that opened the same night at two different theaters?
After speaking with both theater companies, it turns out the answer is a resounding yes. Keely Enright, whose Village Repertory Co. is reprising an adaptation they performed last year at their new Woolfe Street Playhouse, and the Footlight Players' Thomas Keating think theater-goers should see both productions — though Keating jokes that they should see the Footlight production first. While seeing two productions of the same story in one holiday season sounds ridiculous, it's worth noting that the two plays will be quite different from each other. (It helps, too, that both theater companies have extremely loyal subscriber bases.)
For one thing, the Footlight's community theater production is a musical version adapted by Bobby Cronin with music by Cronin and Angelyn Benson. The play uses the framing device of cynical, modern-day kids reading the story as a hook before taking audience members back into Victorian London. "I have a working relationship with the creators from a previous show," Keating says. "However, the biggest thing for me is the feeling of Scrooge's fall depicted in song — 'Another Time, Another Place' — and the modern feel of the music."
And though stage adaptations of the story are regularly performed each December in nearly every city around the country, Charleston can hardly claim over-saturation. Each year it seems like there's one theater that runs some version of it — even if it's as loose an interpretation as PURE's Waffle Haus Christmas, which ran in 2011 — but it hasn't been Footlight for some time now. The last time they produced A Christmas Carol was in 1988. Before that, executive director Don Brandenburg says, the theater ran it in 1958. "I am very pleased that after 25 years, not only is A Christmas Carol back at Footlight, but it is back in this refreshing and highly entertaining new musical version."
In addition, according to Keating, this adaptation calls for several children who not only have the opportunity to act on stage, but give the play a little extra Christmas spirit. "There's a distinct youthful element to our production that inspires us to be young again and free and unburdened with the cares of the world," he says. "That youthful element allows us to shake off the humbug and embrace the Christmas joy."
Enright knows all about that Christmas joy — her daughter happens to be in the Footlight version. "I think it's going to be really lovely," she says of the musical. Woolfe Street's performance, however, will be a completely different animal. To start with, the adaptation they're performing uses only Dickens' own words and has eight actors playing all the characters in the story. "Ours is a very unique piece — it's not your typical, quaint Christmas Carol," Enright says. "We're doing it in a very deconstructed way, very modern."
This same adaptation premiered at the unfinished Woolfe Street Playhouse last year, but it was a private performance for donors only during the Village Rep's capital campaign. It got a terrific response. "We thought we needed to bring it back and allow it to be seen by a greater number of people," she says. Much of the cast will be the same from last year, with Brian Turner as Scrooge, Brad Leon as Bob Cratchit, and Noah Smith as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
The Woolfe Street Playhouse will celebrate its one-year anniversary on Dec. 21, and though their reception as the new company downtown has been excellent, they're continuing to deal with some financial struggles. "We've had such great support and attendance, but we're still operating under a huge amount of debt and overhead. We still need about $100,000," Enright says. "I think sometimes people forget what a big company we are, and making the move [from Mt. Pleasant to downtown] was really difficult."
But Enright is ready to forget about that for a little while and enjoy the holiday season. For her, that will undoubtedly mean seeing two Christmas Carols, and she hopes that locals will too — although she, like Keating, is naturally a bit biased. "We've been telling everyone to see both, but if you want to see a different take than is usually presented in Charleston, see ours."