Subtle changes in the 18th edition of the Citadel Theatre's A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
At the Maclab Stage, Citadel Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Dec. 1 to 23, 2017


The changes are subtle, but they are there.

For the first time since A Christmas Carol graced the Citadel’s Maclab stage 18 years ago, the grand annual Christmas presentation is not being directed by the now-retired former Citadel Theatre artistic director Bob Baker.   Nor does it star Tom Wood, who wrote the stage adaptation of the story that the Citadel has used to this day, and who has played Scrooge for most of those 18 years.

It is the end of an era, but not the end of an era.

For if ever a transition was seamless, this is it.

Director Wayne Paquette has long been Bob Baker’s assistant director for A Christmas Carol. 

The role of Scrooge this year is being alternated between Glenn Nelson – who has played the role before – and Julien Arnold, who was Tiny Tim’s dad Bob Cratchit for every production up until last year.

Nothing has changed. The scenes are all the same, the blocking, the script, the sets, the splendid music. 

But something has changed.

It is this.

In Baker’s Christmas Carol, other than Scrooge, the show was bigger than the characters. The actors had very specific roles from which they did not deviate, not one iota.  The movement within Baker’s show was beautifully choreographed right down to the finest details.  When Scrooge made his way home through the gloomy streets of London, for instance, the street lamps (manipulated by actors at their bases) swirled in a ghostly dance around him.

In Paquette’s show, the actors have more freedom to fill out their roles – an extra wink of the eye, a bit of improvisation, an extra step or two.  Paquette’s show gives the characters more personality. But as a consequence, the choreography of the whole is not as cohesive as Baker’s.

Really, these are piquant details.  A Christmas Carol is like a long-running Broadway musical, except runs for three weeks a year over the 18 years, whereas a hit Broadway show runs year-round over several years.

When a Broadway show goes into a second or third year, actors rotate in and out of the main roles as per their individual contracts. Unless the lead roles are major stars, the public largely doesn’t notice. Same thing happens with A Christmas Carol with every subsequent production.

A Christmas Carol is larger than its parts. No single actor has played the same role every year – though Arnold came close with Bob Cratchit. While it’s a beautiful show much beloved by most of the actors who have been in it over the years. The truth of the matter is almost all the roles, once assigned by gender and body type, could be played by any number of actors. 

A Christmas Carol has become  much more than the sum of its parts.  The show, as written by Wood and originally put to stage by Baker, offers so much to its audience that it continues to sell out its prime-time performances as it has for the past 18 years.  

For so many Edmontonians, going to A Christmas Carol has become a part of a family Christmas tradition. 

A Christmas Carol was never meant to last this long.  Back by popular demand has never been so true. In this case, it’s a good thing.  The show has such good bones that the general public can’t get enough of it.

Personally, I’d love to witness its 20th, 25th or even 30th annual shows. I have seen this show every year since it opened. And I still get choked up, weep a little, wonder at the beauty and rhythm of its ever changing sets and scenes, its meaning and its message.. 

Every year, my heart soars with Scrooge as he discovers he can change, he can be a positive person, he can be loved and he can change the shape of the future through good acts.

Geez, I’m getting all sentimental just remembering this show … for at least the 18th time!