When Harlequin Productions announced its 2020 season, “A Christmas Carol” was slated to be the holiday show. Since then, of course, virtually every plan — in the theatrical world and in the world at the large — has changed. But Harlequin is, despite it all, mounting a production of “A Christmas Carol.”
To be sure, it is not the same version of “Carol” that artistic director Aaron Lamb had in mind in April 2019. His plan was to create his own adaptation and, it goes without saying, to produce it on stage before an audience full of cheerful people sitting right next to one another and drinking coffee, cocoa or mulled wine. What Harlequin is offering instead is Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, available for streaming on demand beginning Dec. 6.
Also available for streaming is a video recording of last season’s Harlequin holiday treat: “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol,” a merry mashup of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle in which the great detective bears more than a passing resemblance to Ebenezer Scrooge.
In other words, the company is serving up two helpings of “Carol.” It’s not surprising, then, that Lamb is a big admirer of Dickens’ most famous story. “A Christmas Carol has been called one of the greatest ghost stories of all time, and it has been called multiple times over the greatest redemption story of all time,” Lamb said in a press release.
Unlike the theater’s fall radio series, Welles’ radio “Carol” won’t be live theater but rather a recording of a live performance, a choice Lamb made in order to minimize the chance of technical problems — and to give audiences the opportunity to listen whenever they choose. “During this pandemic, we have found that people are less interested in watching something at a specific time and more interested in watching on their own schedule,” he said. Both “Carols” will be available through Dec. 31; purchase of a ticket allows unlimited streaming for 48 hours from the time one begins watching or listening.
Aside from the fact that it will be heard and not seen, the radio “Carol” will feel familiar to devotees of the holiday classic about redemption. “My goal with the show was to build a very traditional ‘Christmas Carol’ experience with a diverse cast,” said director Corey McDaniel of Seattle.
The production’s Scrooge will be familiar, too, at least to those who saw “Case of the Christmas Carol.” Seattle’s Terry Edward Moore, who played Sherlock last December, returns as the original Scrooge, a role he’s played three times for Seattle’s ACT Theatre. Also back from “Case” is Harlequin regular Russ Holm, who last year played Dr. Watson and this time around is the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Other familiar voices are Marianna de Fazio as Tiny Tim; Helen Harvester as Belle, Scrooge’s fiancée; Jason Haws as Bob Cratchit; Alyssa Kay as Martha Cratchit, Tiny Tim’s oldest sister; and Nicholas Main as Fred and Young Scrooge. Playing Mrs. Cratchit is Sunam Ellis, who made her Harlequin debut in the radio production of “Snow in Midsummer, and narrator Jason Sharp played Jonathan Harker in the radio series’ “Dracula,” which was also adapted by Welles and directed by McDaniel. New to Harlequin are Rebecca Davis as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Antonio Mitchell as Jacob Marley.
Also key to the production is the work of sound designer Kyle Thompson, McDaniel said. Director and sound designer have been working together to set the mood for each scene. “It’s a very rich audible experience,” McDaniel said. “The sounds let us know where we are and what emotions we should be experiencing. They build upon what the actors are delivering.”
The director said he appreciates Welles’ mastery of radio storytelling. “It’s a whole genre that we don’t necessarily have our finger on the pulse of — or didn’t before COVID,” he said. “Welles’ work is very well-developed.
That said, he and Thompson did make some changes to the sound design during the rehearsal process. “The script might suggest a particular holiday song at a particular spot, and we might want that scene to have more tension, so we explore other sound options,” Marley said.
The idea is to offer special effects via audio, much the way “Case” used visual effects to enhance the ghost-story elements of John Longenbaugh’s script, which follows the structure of Dickens’ classic while adding a healthy dose of mystery and a focus on the friendship of Holmes and Watson. “The ghosts of past, present and future take on different forms, but they try the same sort of routine on him that they used on Scrooge, and it turns out that Holmes is a much tougher customer,” Longenbaugh of Seattle told Oly Arts last year.
Fans of Harlequin might want to fill up on the pair of “Carols,” because Lamb has no firm plans for 2021 and doesn’t expect to produce anything else this winter. “There may be some additional virtual theater offerings in the spring,” he said, “but we are mainly planning to continue hibernation for the near term.”
“At this point, there’s no possibility for us to bring actors safely into our space to rehearse or perform, much less audiences,” he added. He’s hoping to be able to announce plans for next season — and possibly plans for reopening — in the spring. “We’re hoping that by summer 2021, we will be able to offer hybrid performances,” shows performed for small in-person audiences and livestreamed so others can watch from their homes.
Harlequin Productions’ ‘A Christmas Carol’