By the numbers: 'A Christmas Carol' over 22 years at the DCPA

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The 2013 production of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photos by Jennifer M. Koskinen.

On December 19, 1843, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. Now, 171 years and 22 DCPA Theatre Company productions later, audiences continue to fill the theatre making it our most popular and most produced show.

But what drove Dickens to write this “ghostly little book,” and why has it become essential to the holiday season? He wanted to utterly transform the lives of those who read it.

A_Christmas_Carol_By_The_Numbers_300England was in a state of economic depression. There was little regard for the plight of one’s fellow man. Social injustice was epidemic. Children labored under appalling conditions, and, for the most part, mass society lived in abject poverty.

Instead of merely writing a pamphlet that was to be entitled An Appeal to the People of England on Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child, Dickens launched upon a work about which he stated: “You will certainly feel that a sledgehammer has come down with 20 times the force — 20 times the force — I could exert by following my first idea.”

Dickens believed that societal ills could be cured by a profound revolution within the human spirit. So, Ebenezer Scrooge came to be. Aptly named (“Scrooge” is an old vulgarization of “squeeze”), Scrooge was a shrewd businessman whose heart shriveled up so tightly that all impulses of joy, empathy and mercy dried to a gray paste. He embodied the indifference of upper classes who were defined by wealth and believed that their responsibilities toward others stopped with their taxes.

“The dark side of life is very important,” said Laird Williamson, adaptor and director of the Theatre Company’s first production of A Christmas Carol (1990-2004). “We must, like Scrooge, acknowledge it in order to get to touch all aspects of human nature.” The redemption of the seemingly irredeemable Scrooge signaled the possibility of redemption of the human spirit.

We cannot gauge to what degree the book assuaged the ills of early Victorian society. We do know, however, that 6,000 copies were sold by Christmas Eve and eight competing stage versions were produced within a few months of its publication. It remains the best-selling Christmas book of all time, next to the Bible, and easily the most popular Christmas play.

“There’s something really special about this adaptation,” said director Bruce Sevy (2005-2014). “It manages not to be just sentimental or corny — there are dark elements in the play: poverty, loneliness, death, greed, disappointment — yet the story holds out the promise that it’s never too late to make a new start.”

But the lasting power of A Christmas Carol may well be the characterization of the holiday itself. At a time when traditional festivities were on the decline, Dickens resurrected and reshaped the holiday with sparkling merriment, warm open-heartedness, piping hospitality, dazzling generosity and even a white Christmas. The first Christmas card appeared just after the book’s publication. The cozy holiday glow was painted by his words. And even the existence of Christmas fiction, previously so saccharine sweet that it was declining in popularity, was rejuvenated by marrying it to its opposite — the tale of terror. By rekindling an almost extinguished flame, Dickens’ name forevermore was made
synonymous with Christmas.

Based on the original 1990 Applause article by Laird Williamson with contributions by Dr. Elliot Engel, Chad Henry, Marilynne Scott Mason, Jay Novick, Dan Sullivan and Suzanne Yoe.

BY THE NUMBERS
In its 35-year history, the Theatre Company has presented two different adaptations of ‘A Christmas Carol’ — the first by Laird Williamson and Dennis Powers (1990-2004) and the second by Richard Hellesen (2005-2014). In those years, we’ve had:

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A Christmas Carol: Ticket information
Nov. 28-Dec 28
Stage Theatre
Accessible Performance: 1:30 p.m. Dec. 20
Tickets: 303-893-4100 or 800-641-1222
Groups (10 or more): 303-446-4829

Our coverage of A Christmas Carol on the NewsCenter:
First day of 2014 rehearsal: Interviews, cast list and photos
‘Meet the Cast’ videos (2013 production)
Video: Leslie O’Carroll performs ‘A Christmas O’Carroll’ … in 5 minutes

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