Christmas Presented

Christmas Presented

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that,” begins Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, published in 1843. There is also no doubt whatever that, in 2022, this “ghostly little book,” as the author called it, has become a holiday staple of stage and screen.

Perhaps the first record of a performance in New Haven appears, like one of Scrooge’s ghosts, on Christmas Eve, 1902, in the New Haven Morning Journal and Courier, which announced “Dickens’ Christmas carol ‘Scrooge as Morley’s Ghost,’ with a series of eighteen dissolving views in the vitagraph” at Poli’s Theatre downtown. Around the same time, a traveling “character impersonator” and “talented elocutionist” amusingly named Roscoe Reeves made the rounds with a dramatic reading of Dickens’s tale. Announcements of his performances appear several times in the Journal and Courier in the decade of the aughts.

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Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center presents Christmas in the Castle

More than a century later, there’s a lot more Carol to go around. A new Lifetime movie riff on A Christmas CarolThe 12 Days of Christmas Eve, starring Kelsey Grammer—was filmed, in part, at Bill Miller’s Castle in Branford in September. The story is back on stage as well, mounted from Putnam to New Britain to Middletown—and just up the shoreline in Stony Creek’s Legacy Theatre, where Keely Baisden Knudsen’s delightful production packs the entire story, original music, dancing, special effects and a short sing-along into 75 minutes and sends the audience out smiling.

What gives A Christmas Carol its sticking power, Knudsen says, is the “change of human character” that Ebenezer Scrooge undergoes—and that, by extension, the audience is convinced they, too, can experience. “With that mighty change of heart in one night, he’s able to change the course of his own life and his community’s,” Knudsen says. “Maybe we have selfish tendencies, maybe we’re aloof, maybe we don’t open our wallets… It can show us that ultimate change is possible.”

Knudsen aims to make Legacy’s production, which she adapted and directed, a local holiday tradition. Audience members who enjoyed it last year will find it familiar, she promises, including its trademark touches: the original score by Knudsen and arranger/music director David Bell, dulcet vocal clock chimes marking the time and the foregrounding of what Knudsen sees as “the real dramatic decline”—young Ebenezer’s breakup with his fiancée, Belle—by placing it at the beginning of the show.

Aside from her own production, Knudsen is partial to a one-man rendition of A Christmas Carol by Jefferson Mays—perhaps this generation’s Roscoe Reeves—who, she says, “completely transforms with his body and his voice in just such a remarkable way… He’s just such a craftsman!” Mays currently plays Scrooge—and everyone else in the story—on Broadway through New Year’s Day.

Knudsen also offers a shout-out to Pantochino Productions’ spoof—billed as “a shiny bright, fun-filled, topsy-turvy musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic”—on stage at the Milford Arts Council, today through December 18. Meanwhile, the Second Chance Players, whom member Amy Myers describes as “a brand new theater company just getting our feet underneath us,” are staging two performances today at Cheshire’s Nelson Hall.

With so many productions to choose from, you wouldn’t just be a Scrooge to say “humbug” to A Christmas Carol. You’d be overlooking a story that has become part of the spirit of Christmas Present.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images, featuring moments from last year’s production of A Christmas Carol at Legacy Theatre, photographed by T. Charles Erickson.

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