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Across Canada, 'A Christmas Carol' is played to many different tunes

Stephen Hair as Scrooge and Robert Graham Klein as Jacob Marley in "A Christmas Carol" at Theatre Calgary

Trudie Lee

Perhaps the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come foresaw this: Almost 170 years after Charles Dickens published his dark but redemptive holiday tale that travels from Scrooge's counting house to his grave, A Christmas Carol continues to be a favourite for theatre companies.

Each, as Marsha Lederman found, has its own twist on the holiday classic. God Bless Them, Every One.

A Christmas Carol at The Citadel in Edmonton Runs until Dec. 23

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Not exactly fun and cheerful – at least not to begin with – Tom Wood's adaptation is an authentic Victorian drama and ghost story, says Citadel artistic director Bob Baker, who directs the production.

"We chose to deal with the psychology of Ebenezer Scrooge," says Baker. "What formed him, what decisions or occurrences happened in his life, what great pain is he carrying to make him shut out society. That's in the story, but we've reinforced that. So many Christmas Carols one tends to see are festive from the word go. So the redemption at the end, the transformation, isn't quite as cathartic."

Count: For 11 of its 12 seasons, the Citadel has collected $530,000 from audiences for the food bank.

Keeping it relevant: "What I love about our production is we deal with the poverty in London at the time and deal with the 1 per cent/99 per cent difference, which keeps the show relevant," says Baker. "We hold off the joyful part of it until it's earned, when Scrooge says 'I will change, I will change.' And the audience starts to love him."

A Christmas Carol at Theatre Calgary Runs until Dec. 24

Talk about the Ghost of Christmas Past. This is Theatre Calgary's 25th A Christmas Carol (and it's raised more than $1.2-million for the food bank during this run). This year, a new production adapted and directed by TC artistic director Dennis Garnhum features all new scenery, 100 new costumes, 15 Christmas carols and extensive flying.

"The last version ... I emphasized the true grit and darkness and poverty of London," says Garnhum. "This time, now that I am a dad, I was much more interested in the joy and magic of the piece."

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Watch For: The onstage set for Fred's dinner party is meant to suggest the River Thames, so the finale of Act 1 features the full company skating – on roller blades made to look like ice skates.

Count: Stephen Hair is back for his 18th year as Scrooge (he has also played Marley and Dickens).

Keeping it relevant: Families come year after year, telling Garnhum their holiday season begins when they see the play. "It's easy to stay fresh," he says, "when you have your community cheering you on."

A Christmas Carol at Pacific Theatre in Vancouver Runs until Dec. 31

A one-man show adapted by Pacific Theatre artistic director Ron Reed (who also stars), this is no sentimental, family-friendly holiday romp (although children are welcome). Rather, it aims to be an authentic adaptation of Dickens's dark tale.

"The play doesn't just say 'You bad man, you really should be nicer to people,'" says Reed. "It takes [Scrooge]to his own grave, beyond his grave. It shows him this image of these ghosts, these haunted people who have lived their lives for themselves. It's very, very dark confronting sort of imagery."

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Watch For: Reed is joined onstage throughout by fiddler Kathleen Nisbet.

Count: The script consists of about 45 per cent of Dickens's actual text.

Keeping it relevant: Reed is struck by the parallels with the Occupy movement. " A Christmas Carol came from [Dickens's]incredible burning desire for justice; this kind of rage at the wealth and privileged class – not as a class necessarily, but at the ones whose greed predominated."

Bah! Humbug! at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at Vancouver's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts Runs Wednesday through Sunday

Savannah Walling and Michael Boucher give the Dickens story contemporary references (Occupy Vancouver, BC Rail, Jimmy Pattison) and music and a local setting: Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside (DTES). The cast for this fundraising production consists of both Equity actors (including Jay Brazeau as Scrooge and Jim Byrnes as Marley) and cast members from the DTES.

"They're living the Downtown Eastside experience," says director Max Reimer, artistic managing director of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company. "Art is a transformative force in their lives. When they're on the stage and bring that forward, it's transformational art as its best."

Watch For: Tiny Tim is represented by a first-nations carving of a crutch with a raven's head.

Count: Throughout the run, 200 tickets are set aside for residents of the DTES.

A Christmas Carol at the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ont. Runs Thursday through Sunday

Alan Menken ( Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid) created this uplifting musical version of the Dickens classic, which ran for 10 years at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Fun Fact: Audience members have told director Danny Harvey that Dickens puts them in the mood for Christmas shopping – immediately. "I always tell them, give it a day," he says. "You know how you shouldn't shop hungry? Don't Christmas-shop happy." (All together now: Bah! Humbug!)

Count: This musical runs a tight 75 minutes, down from the two-hour-plus running time of Scrooge! The Musical, which the Rose produced the previous two years.

Keeping it relevant: The Toronto suburb of Brampton is a diverse community, and Harvey notes this story isn't as much about religion as redemption. "It's accessible to everyone, not just those who celebrate Christmas, but to anyone who believes that life can be better and you can change."

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More

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