Harlequin’s A Christmas Carol Is Evolving

by Molly Gilmore

Harlequin Productions’ A Christmas Carol, the theater’s holiday staple, returns Nov. 24. The company’s version of the Charles Dickens classic, adapted and directed by artistic director Aaron Lamb, is evolving — and becoming more popular with audiences — each year.

Terry Edward Moore is returning to play Scrooge in Harlequin Productions’ original adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Shannon Paxton Photography.

“There’s a desire to create a new tradition, something to do every year, like seeing one of the two Nutcrackers at the Washington Center or going up to Seattle to see one,” Lamb said. “We’re still building the community conversation around our Christmas Carol. We’re hoping to fill a niche for a lot of families in the region to have another place to come and have some Christmas cheer and a hot cocoa.”

It’s the third season for Harlequin’s Carol, which uses an ensemble cast to tell the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, again played by Seattle’s Terry Edward Moore. The theater’s holiday productions, including the longtime tradition of original Stardust musicals, bring in more revenue than other shows, along with audiences that are about twice as big as those for a typical non-holiday show.

Xander Layden, shown with Christian Bolduc in the 2022 production, plays Scrooge’s nephew Fred. Photo by Shannon Paxton Photography.

“We see probably between 35 and 40 percent of our annual single ticket sales on the holiday shows,” Lamb said. “During the pandemic and during our changeover from Stardust to Christmas Carol, we saw a decline in that number, but it’s starting to come back. We are seeing bigger attendance[s] for this show, which is exciting.”

Lamb’s adaptation of the redemption story is both familiar and fresh, and he plans to refine it each year. Among the changes for 2023: Much of the action will take place on the same level as the audience, rather than on an elevated stage. The change, made because the theater is in the midst of long-awaited backstage upgrades, creates a more intimate feeling. “It’s sort of like you’re sitting in the room,” Lamb said. There’ll be new designs, costumes and effects, and the snow that delighted audiences in 2021 will again fall inside the theater.

There’s also a twist in casting: The spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future are all female. Lamb didn’t plan that; rather, he said, it’s “a fortuitous casting discovery” that adds resonance to the work of the ghostly trio, traditionally played by men. “Right now, people don’t really feel it’s important to listen to the voice of the patriarchy,” he said. “But our mothers and sisters are always important. Having women be the ones who guide Scrooge to his redemption is a much more moving vision of the story.”

Samantha Chung is making her Harlequin debut as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Photo courtesy of Samantha Chung.

Samantha Chung, whose main role is the Ghost of Christmas Past, is a newcomer to both Harlequin and Carol. She came to the company’s general auditions for the 2024 season and was delighted when Lamb asked her to read for the role. “It’s very meaningful to me, because it happened on its own,” said Chung of Tacoma. “I never thought this would happen to me, and it’s really a gem to be part of the team and the production.”

“She had a very soothing and calming quality to her presence when she read the part, but also powerful,” Lamb said. “That is very important for this ghost.” Chung imagines Christmas Past as being thousands of years old. “I think she’s seen it all, and she’s so compassionate and gentle,” said Chung, who played Titania and Hippolyta in Tacoma Arts Live’s recent A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Everything from the past is factual, and there’s no dispute. That’s powerful,” she said. “As an actor, I’m really letting Scrooge sit with discomfort and lean into that discomfort. I’m poking him with the hard bits of when he could have done something differently.”

Chung is also a director, playwright, producer and theater change agent who works to center historically excluded people and dismantle white-supremacist culture. She said she’s found a welcoming and inclusive environment at Harlequin. “I feel that I am seen, heard and valued and that I belong,” she said. “I truly feel welcomed, and from some of my previous experience … that is not always the case.”

She’s thought a lot about the historical context of Carol, written in 1843. “We know what was happening with the British Empire and colonialism,” said Chung, who is Black, Puerto Rican, Hawaiian and Chinese. “I think about the context of Victorian England, and guess what? Some of my ancestors might have been on the receiving end of some horrible activity.

“I think, ‘Would I have been cast in this play over 100 years ago?’ ” she said. “Absolutely not. It’s exciting and inspiring for me to be able to step into the shoes of a Dickens character, or a few of them.”

Aaron Lamb as Jacob Marley* with Terry Edward Moore* in the 2022 production. Photo by Shanna Paxton Photography.

Also stepping into Carol’s characters are Teri Lee Thomas, Scott C. Brown and Victoria Austin. Xander Layden, who played Fred and others in 2022, and Nathan Rice, who played Bob Cratchit and others in 2021, are returning to their roles. Alternating in the roles of Martha Cratchit and others are Izumi Huff, 14 and a freshman at Olympia High School, and Zoey Matthews, 11 and in 6th grade at Washington Middle School, and alternating in the roles of Tiny Tim and others are Ami “AJ” Matthews, 9 and in 4th grade at McKenny Elementary, and Larry “LJ” Bevan, 9 and in 4th grade at Madison Elementary.

WHAT
A Christmas Carol

WHEN
7:30 p.m. Nov. 24, 25 and 30 and Dec. 1, 2, 7-9, 14-16 and 21-23
and 2 p.m. Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, 10, 17 and 24

WHERE
State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia

HOW MUCH
$33-$57.
For the Dec. 7, 14 and 16 performances, pay what you choose.

LEARN MORE
https://harlequinproductions.org/show/a-christmas-carol-4/