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Hark! Christmas Brings Us A (Virtual) Christmas Carol and More!

Photos from Chris Whitaker

‘Tis the season for Christmas carols and A Christmas Carol. While COVID-19 has limited live theater performances and large public gatherings, it hasn’t been a total scrooge in preventing these holiday favorites from being presented. 

To stage A Christmas Carol this year, creative theater folks have had to found new ways to be creative , and, as a result, many different versions of the beloved Dickens tale can be experienced virtually this holiday season.

Tony Award-winning actor Jefferson Mays stars in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which he portrays over 50 roles in a one-man tour de force performance. Staged and filmed especially for this online presentation, the show will share proceeds with nearly 60 partnering theaters across the country. Recommended for ages eight and older, it’s online through January 3; tickets provide a 24-hour viewing access window.

Several revered regional theaters have reimagined their traditional live, staged adaptations of A Christmas Carol for an online audience. For its 43rd Carol, Providence’s Trinity Rep has reconceived this seasonal favorite as a one-hour online performance, which can be watched for free from December 17-January 10. Artistic director Curt Columbus told The New York Times: “It’s absolutely an obligation, in the best sense of that word…The story felt more urgent, and more necessary than it has in many years.” 

Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater will have four actors, all veterans of the Theater’s annual stage version, delivering a chapter from the Dickens’ classic – much like the public reading the author did in his day. The Guthrie’s Artistic Director Joseph Haj, who adapted and directed this piece, states that presenting A Christmas Carol represents “the ability to create community and the opportunity to be made better through the art form that we love.” This filmed production, best suited for middle schoolers and older, will be online December 19-31.

The historic Ford Theatre in Washington DC, which has been performing A Christmas Carol since 1979, pivots from doing it as a stage play to a radio play. The show, suitable for ages five and up, will be available December 14-31 on Ford’s website as well as on select PRX radio stations. 

CATSO (the Contemporary American Theatre Company in Columbus, Ohio) is serving up a modernized re-imagining of Dickens’ tale. Entitled A Columbus Christmas Carol, this virtual, locally-based interpretation, which will be online December 16-27, tells its story of family, redemption, and love through the eyes of a bank owner named Ebony Scrooge. Playwright Juliana Gonzalez hopes that “this adaptation will bring families a little Christmas magic and a little theater magic into their homes.” 

A Christmas Carol is coming to church too. On December 22, The First Presbyterian Church of Sparta, New Jersey hosts master storyteller Jonathan Kruk for a live 7 pm (Eastern Time) performance. Kruk conjures up the Dickensian era in his one-man show, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Jim Keyes. The recorded version will stay up on the church’s YouTube until January 1st. While viewing the show is free, donations are welcome.  

Traditional caroling and Christmas choral concerts also will be done online by a goodly number of churches around the country. San Francisco Swedenborgian Church Choir will spread some “good cheer” on December 13 at 8 ET. Set to be sung in the church, which is a National Historic Landmark, the hour-long virtual concert will deliver a program of Christmas carols and instrumentals. Tickets, available on Eventbrite, are donation-based and will help support that church that has suffered financially this year due to the pandemic. 

Located in Huntsville, AL, the Trinity United Methodist Church is hosting several Christmas events via the internet for the public to enjoy. Scheduled for December 13 is the church’s “Best of Carols of Christmas” program, featuring Christmas performances from the past 15 years. The Trinity Family Sing-A-Long, happening December 18, lets those at home come together virtually to sing holiday songs. Also planned is a December 20 Christmas Keyboard Concert, filled with yuletide favorites, that will go up online after the show. All showtimes are 7:30 pm ET, and links are available on the church’s website on the day of the event.

The St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, in Ridgefield, CT, is also presenting its “Carols by Candlelight,”  this year as a virtual performance. Taking place on December 12 at 7:30 pm ET, this annual holiday concert features the church’s choir with accompaniment from an organist and a small orchestra. “O Holy Night” and Handel’s “Messiah” are part of this program of Christmas hymns and holiday music. A $20 donation is suggested and registration can be done online. 

The yuletide tradition of The Nutcracker has also gone virtual this year. Sugar Plum Fairy fans can enjoy a free stream of the Tchaikovsky classic from 5 pm December 23 to midnight December 26. The production, The Nutcracker at Wethersfield, is being performed COVID-19 safe at the historic Wethersfield Estate in New York’s Hudson Valley region. The elegant, imaginatively presented BalletCollective production features a cast of internationally acclaimed dancers, including members of (and currently furloughed from) New York City Ballet.

These relocated, reconceived productions of traditional Christmas pageantry are just a sampling of what’s being offered online this year. You can do a little web sleuthing and see what’s happening in your area – or across the country.

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