It’s Christmas Eve. An old man sitting close to his fire is visited by his former business partner, his formerly alive business partner. Covered in chains and looking very much the worse for death, Jacob Marley (of the lending firm Scrooge and Marley) warns his breathing partner of the consequences of a life lived without love, charity, and friendship. Ebenezer Scrooge (of Scrooge and Marley) says “Bah, humbug!”
So begins a story of redemption that has entertained countless audiences for the last 170 years. Author Charles Dickens was only 31 years old when A Christmas Carol was first published in serial form. (At this time, the blogger chooses to refrain from judging the merit of her own accomplishments by the age of 31, and recommends that readers do the same. ) This was the winter of 1843; the author still had Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities to write in the years ahead, but he already had the character of Oliver Twist and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby to his credit. The year before A Christmas Carol, Dickens visited New York City for the first time. He returned again in 1867, touring the country and no doubt performing readings from his wildly popular Christmas tale.
An instant hit, Scrooge’s night with Christmas spirits past, present, and future, was presented by Dickens himself as part of his readings repertoire. By the turn of the century, full scale theatrical productions where standard touring fare in England. Several musical adaptations appeared throughout the United States in the 1970s. The first appearance of Scrooge on the Broadway stage was in 1979 in a musical re-imaging of the story called Comin’ Uptown. The show starred Gregory Hines as a tap-dancing Harlem slumlord.The production closed after only 45 shows, but Hines’s performance was praised. He was nominated for a Tony award that season for best actor in a musical. A Christmas Carol was not seen again on the boards of the Great White Way until Patrick Stewart’s one-man dramatic reading came to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in 1991. In 1994, A Christmas Carol: The Musical began a perennial run at Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theatre. With music by Alan Mencken and lyrics from Lynn Ahrens, the show ran every Christmas season until 2003. Its Scrooges included Frank Langella, Roger Daltry, Tony Randall, F. Murray Abraham, Tim Curry, and Walter Charles (pictured below). The overly large turkey leg and beer mug seem to have melted the austerity out of Scrooge’s face, to say nothing of the Christmas showgirls. This season, there are at least three different productions running in the New York area including a stripped down, whirling romp from the creator of Broadway’s The 39 Steps. Though Dickens is dead, dead as a doornail, we honor his spirit every year by re-mounting, adapting, and continually enjoying his most famous ghost story. So let me end, dear reader, in the spirit of Dickens by wishing you happy holidays, every one.