Bob Baker believes A Christmas Carol is as relevant as ever, but for the most sobering of reasons.
“The separation between the middle class and the poor is growing even wider and no one wants to tax the wealthy,” says the Citadel Theatre‘s artistic director about the 1843 Charles Dickens classic novella, which plays at the Maclab Theatre from Nov. 28 to Dec. 23. “Sadly, it remains relevant, because people are still suffering. I think it’s as relevant now as it was in the 1800s when it was written.”
The Yuletide classic, enjoying its 16th annual run in the Citadel complex, is a seasonal favourite with Edmontonians – although, in its first year, Baker had reservations about how the production would be received. He knew audiences were familiar with more campy sendups la The Muppets, Disney, Mr. Magoo and others of that ilk. But Baker believed the drama about Ebenezer Scrooge – a bitter, miserly businessman who has the error of his ways pointed out on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his former business partner and three Christmas spirits – deserved the full gloomy and suspenseful treatment that he felt Dickens conveyed in his work.
“That was risky, because people came into A Christmas Carol expecting it to be about a cranky old guy who was funny. And we had a man who was seriously angry. I think audiences were taken aback by that because it wasn’t like the funny movies they had seen. Then they got into the story, with all the heartbreak, and, at the end, when the sun shines on Mr. Scrooge, the redemption is so meaningful.”
Aside from a few casting changes over the years, the tweaking of wardrobe and repairing worn parts of the Victorian-era set, the Citadel production remains unchanged since day one. The role of Scrooge was a signature portrayal for actor Tom Wood for the first 10 years, after which he retired from the role. Since then, two other actors – Richard McMillan and this year’s Scrooge, James MacDonald – have played the lead.
Baker originally hoped the lavish production would pay for itself after three years. Not only did the show reach that target, it has enjoyed larger houses with each subsequent running and set an attendance record in 2014. That said, he’s not feeling the pressure to surpass any milestones this time around.
“The community has adopted it as a family tradition, so as long as the city wants it, we’ll keep providing it.”