Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Jose SolísDecember 06, 2019
Ghost of Christmas Present and Entourage: Photo by Jill Jones

As a 7-year-old, the actor Charles Bernard Murray did not really believe in Santa Claus. He knew his single mom was trying to make ends meet, and yet he still asked for over a dozen presents for the holidays. That Christmas morning as he went downstairs to collect his gifts, he discovered not a dozen packages, but one. As he unwrapped it and found the spaceman action figure hidden underneath, he looked at his mom’s face filled with hope.

“At that moment, I decided I would act like this was the most important thing in my life,” he told me over the phone, and then “I saw her face light up. It was the perfect Christmas.” Murray’s kindness is the antithesis of the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge, whom he is playing in “A Christmas Carol in Harlem” (Dec. 4 to 21), in which the greedy businessman is transformed into a modern-day real estate mogul.

“In our version, he’s basically a slumlord unaware of the pain of others,” explained the director Carl Cofield, who, as the artistic director of The Classical Theatre of Harlem, has made sure the gift of theater is accessible to members of his community. Mr. Cofield believes that when images on stage resonate with his audiences, they can have a profound, lasting effect. “We are a community service organization at heart, so community is invaluable to what we create,” he said. “Audience members are our partners as we build and tell these stories.”

For the musical director and the portrayer of the Ghost of Christmas Future, Khalil X Daniel, who wrote an R&B-infused score for the production, Christmas is all about the present. “It’s about the love that you have right there with your family and loved ones,” he said.

Growing up, Mr. Daniel fell in love with Charles Dickens’ tale of change and forgiveness after watching “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” in which the legendary Michael Caine played Scrooge. About 80 blocks south of Harlem, at the Lyceum Theatre, the actor Hannah Elless, who is in a Broadway production of “A Christmas Carol,” (running through Jan. 5) told me, “I grew up with ‘The Muppets’ version.”

“We are a community service organization at heart, so community is invaluable to what we create." 

In fact, after being cast as Scrooge’s niece, she and fellow cast members rewatched the classic to get in the spirit. “We had pictures of our characters and held them side by side to the Muppets,” she said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Ooh, that’s who I’m playing!’”

In the Broadway production, Scrooge is played by Campbell Scott, the son of Oscar-winning legend George C. Scott, who once played the stonehearted character in a beloved television production. “Campbell leads us with such grace and humor,” said Ms. Elless. “He is the perfect Scrooge, and I mean that in the best sense.”

Although this production is more traditional, its message is relevant for a time in which society is questioning the lack of generosity from the super rich. Directed by Matthew Warchus, the Broadway version takes this democratic approach to exciting levels rarely seen on Broadway.

Before the show begins, cast members mingle with the audience and hand out clementines and cookies. For the actor Brandon Gill, who plays Scrooge’s nephew Fred, this means, “We build a quick rapport with them, so when they watch the show they go, ‘Oh, I kind of know something about this guy.’”

Since Broadway ticket prices can be so expensive for seats closer to the stage, the production also ensures that action occurs at every level of the theater. “I love that one of my scenes happens in the balcony,” said Mr. Gill. “Up in the balcony sometimes you feel ignored ’cause all of the action is sort of looking at the orchestra.”

If you are in New York, you will not be lacking for versions of “A Christmas Carol.” At Theatre for a New City, you can enjoy a syncretic version called “A Christmas Carol, Oy! Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa” (Dec. 19 to Jan. 5), in which Dickens’ characters are portrayed by centuries-old marionettes from the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre. And you can catch Sir Patrick Stewart doing a one-man production of “A Christmas Carol” in which he gives life to all the characters.

Then there is one production in which ticket sales benefit those creating more art. At Primary Stages’ star-studded reading of the Dickens classic, the playwright and actor Kate Hamill (who thinks the Muppets’ version is “the best adaptation of all time”) will join Tyne Daly and Sharon Washington, under the direction of Theresa Rebeck, to breathe new life into the story.

Ms. Hamill is known for her insightful adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Vanity Fair.” She once wrote her own “Carol” adaptation called “Scrooge for Senate,” which led her to discover Dickens’ own Scrooge-like past. “He was a middle-aged man, and he tried to get his wife locked away in the lunatic asylum so he could marry his mistress,” she told me. “Talk about a struggle between the artists and the art.”

Hamill’s own adaptation of “Dracula,” which premieres next year at Classic Stage Company, takes a page from Dickens’ life. “It’s set in a lunatic asylum,” said Ms. Hamill, and it will explore vampirism as a form of toxic masculinity. “The basic premise of mine is like, can you ever really trust a man?” she added.

With the holidays approaching, Ms. Hamill wondered what being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past would be like. “It’d be like a live-action of ‘Our Town’ to go back to your life,” she said. “But I also think it’s the ghost that gives Scrooge the most perspective,” she added. Today, what better gift for all of us than to learn from the past to ensure a better future?

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

The latest from america

jesuit father marko rupnik speaks in front of a microphone
Slovenian Jesuit and artist Father Marko Rupnik has been barred from hearing confessions or offering spiritual direction after complaints about his ministry.
A priest in white robes speaks with a young girl in a jacket that reads "Newtown Lacrosse"
Reflecting on the horror and the events of the intervening years, Msgr. Weiss said: “Gratitude sustains me. I pray a lot and try to keep myself in the Lord’s hands.”
Who is this King Wenceslas fella? What makes him good? And why does he merit a song at Christmas?
Jim McDermottDecember 05, 2022
Pope Francis visits a Nativity scene during an audience with the donors of the Vatican Christmas tree and the Nativity scenes, in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican.
Stopping to gaze at and perhaps pray before a Nativity scene is one of the best ways to remember the real meaning of Christmas, Pope Francis said.