It’s been a long time since I’ve sat in the audience at the Ahmanson. I remember buying tickets once a long time ago and inviting my mother. I had, by that time, been a theater critic for a number of years, writing for the LA Weekly. The Ahmanson’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” might be a little long for younger children and a little too minimalistic for some, but it does have local Bradley Whitford as the grumpy Scrooge and beautiful production values. His Scrooge transforms into a giddy man who might appear delightfully demented, but the production also has local in-jokes and gives us a bit of snow to celebrate the return to live productions on stage.
Opening night audiences were first greeted by a card left on our armrests, reminding us that it has been 628 days of darkness on the Ahmanson stage. “We imagine you’ve missed this as much as we have. As we gather tonight, surrounded by fellow theatre lovers, let the magic of this moment remind us that there is nothing like live theatre.” Under the direction of Thomas Caruso (originally directed by Matthew Warchus), this Jack Thorne adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ classic then eases the audience into the mood with live music on stage (composter/orchestrator/arranger Christopher Nightingale) as people in black outerwear and tall black top hats (set and costume design by Rob Howell) wander on the stage. You’ll hear some familiar classics and I won’t bother to check the dates to be certain there’s nothing musically amiss.
As people continue to gather on stage, the audience gets the hint and gets seated. Once seated within the theater, there is no eating and drinking and the ushers have signs to remind guests to have their masks up. If you’re one of those lackadaisical mask wearers, then you’ll get a gentle reminder. Two White male guests, one of them was seated next to me, eventually tried to follow the rules. You can still eat and drink outside in the lobbies (Pre-orders for the 15-minute intermission are encouraged).
When the action really begins, our chorus informs us “Marley was dead.” Ebenezer Scrooge (Whitford) was so cheap that after Marley’s death, he didn’t bother to change the sign over their business and would answer to either Scrooge or Marley. Of course, soon he will be visited by three ghosts: Ghost of Christmas Past (Kate Burton), Ghost of Christmas Present (Alex Newell) and Ghost of Christmas Future. The Ghost of Christmas Past will admonish Scrooge because “You have made an idol of gold.”
In the past, we meet the delightful Mr. Fezziwig (Evan Harrington), his wife (Newell) and his Belle Fezziwig (Sarah Hunt), the woman the young Ebenezer (Harry Thornton) falls in love with. Fezziwig is in the business of death, an undertaker, but one with great sympathy for the poor and hopes that the young Ebenezer will take over the business and marry his daughter.
This adaptation gives Scrooge an important backstory: He loves his sister Little Fan (Glory Yepassis-Zembrou) and is not loved by his alcoholic father (Chris Hoch who also plays Marley). When a young Ebenezer comes home with a gift for Little Fan and the family, the father scolds him harshly because what they need is money. He takes away the gifts to sell and the young Ebenezer receives a gift from Little Fan, but has nothing to give in return.
Of course, there will be Bob Cratchit (Daniel Eaves) and Tiny Tim (Sebastian Ortiz or Cade Robertson) and Little Fan’s son, Scrooge’s nephew Fred (Brandon Gill). But there will also be a resolution between the old Ebenezer and Belle and snow as well as references to the local geography.
This colorblind casting works to bring an inclusive message and the minimalist staging is filled out with the wonderful usage of lights (lighting design by Hugh Vanstone) and the “miracle” of snow indoors.
This premiere of the Old Vic Production at the Ahmanson came on the eve of the discovery of the new variant in California, during a week when borders were again closing in and out of the US. I had just learned that Japan has again closed its doors to international scholars and I had gone, against my mother’s wishes, not once, but twice to study in Japan.
My mother had first sparked my interest in theater and Japan, but she was also a woman who lived in fear who had been raised during a fearful time when anti-Asian sentiment was high enough that during her lifetime there were lynching of Asians in the state of California. She died as a COVID-19 high-risk patient due to cancer at a hospice.
My mother died this year having never been to an Ahmanson production, having never been to the Tournament of Roses and there were many missed opportunities because of fear and bitterness. I invited her, but something held her back. I admit that going out, especially going out alone is something I do now with trepidation. In the over 600 days of this pandemic I have experience racism, but theater can speak to audiences and touch them in ways that film cannot. The Ahmanson production of “A Christmas Carol” does move into the audience and while one isn’t physically touched by the players, we can catch favors thrown from the stage at the beginning and during the second half, see the enthusiasm and excitement of the cast as they stand or wander through the aisles. We also get to witness snow in the theater in downtown Los Angeles while sharing a chuckle at the expense of some Southern California sites.
To share this experience and embrace hope for our shared future, besides the price of a ticket, all one has to do is be vaccinated and wear a mask. Before one can get in range of the theater entry doors, one must show one’s vaccination card and ID. Opening night included a tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim.
“A Christmas Carol” continues through January 1, 2022 at the Ahmanson Theatre, The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012. Ticket Prices: $40 – $179. (Ticket prices are subject to change.)
Performance Days and Times:
• Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m. • Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
• Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. • No Monday performances
• Exceptions: Added 2 p.m. performance on Thursday, December 23 and December 30; added 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. on December 24/no 8 p.m. December 24 performance; no 2 p.m. performance on December 25
Run Time and Intermission: 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission
Tickets are available
- Online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
- By calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.972.4400
- In person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office at The Music CenterGroup Sales: 213.972.7231