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Stage: Christmas at the Theater
Jesse reviews Clara's Trip and Scrooge! The Musical for a Christmas Double Feature
‘Tis the season for all events Christmas, Christmas-oriented, or Christmas-adjacent, fa-la-la-la-la. No matter what holiday Charlotteans celebrate, we will not escape red and green, sparkling silver garlands, rainbow lights, and replays of “Last Christmas” by Wham! in any given dining room across the county.
For many families, finding magical experiences in the lead-up to the day itself is a yearly task. While there will be no shortage of holiday light tours or Christmases in Davidson to help deliver the spirit to your family, don’t be afraid to look a little further for your holiday stage fare. In addition to Lee Street Theatre’s energetic and family-friendly performance of Godspell (reviewed here and going into its final weekend), I recommend two options for the upcoming weekend.
From Caroline Calouche & Co. comes Clara’s Trip, an original adaptation of the classic Nutcracker ballet from Petipa, Ivanov, and Tchaikovsky. Calouche’s evolving annual work finds Clara, a little older, at Mr. and Mrs. Flowers’ holiday party. Instead of the traditional Victorian dance and ballet throughout, Calouche told me that audiences will get to experience contemporary dance, jazz, stilt walking, trapeze, Cyr wheel, and styles which blend both worlds. Founded in 2008, Calouche’s dance company fuses dance and the circus arts for a performance style unlike anything else in the Carolinas. “Circus arts can be expressive beyond the tricks,” she says. Her company draws on the experience of its artists to meld a wide range of styles, allowing them to engage and entertain while demonstrating the less-explored depth of acrobatic modes.
Caroline Calouche & Co’s new motto is “performing dance and circus for all.” In addition to regular performances, the company will offer children’s shows and their first relaxed performance with Clara’s Trip. At these performances, lights will not go all the way down, the audience is encouraged to bring snacks or sensory items to make themselves more comfortable, and talking or movement in the audience is all permitted. Additionally, a quiet room will be provided for those who need it, and a “know before you go” email will help audience members anticipate dramatic changes in volume and lighting.
Clara’s Trip is the perfect way to channel your support for the local arts. It is a unique celebration of the source material and an original work conceived by a North Carolinian choreographer, brought to life by many local artists. Seeing The Nutcracker is an annual tradition for many, but there will always be a production of the ballet to attend no matter where you are in this country. The modern, evolving work of Clara’s Trip, however, is a true tradition that belongs to our hometown. You can get tickets here.
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Scrooge! The Musical
Meanwhile, at Matthews Playhouse, families can enjoy a more traditional holiday offering. Scrooge! The Musical, based on the 1970 film adaptation of A Christmas Carol starring Albert Finney, follows the familiar Christmas fable faithfully. The Matthews Playhouse cast includes community members of all ages and is sure to delight audience members young and old.
Originally a children’s theater, Matthews Playhouse opened in 1995 and expanded to produce shows for adults in 2002. Deeply supported by the local community, their Fullwood Theatre is the centerpiece of the Matthews Community Center, a venue for the Playhouse as well as other community events throughout the year.
The characterization of Ebenezer Scrooge has varied in classic adaptations, from Alistair Sim’s mournful misanthrope, to Albert Finney’s jabbering recluse, to Michael Caine’s terse and disdainful miser. For a relatively small community theater, Matthews Playhouse is lucky to have found actor Geof Knight for this production’s Ebenzer. His petulant Scrooge is absolutely the highlight of this show, snotty and self-absorbed. Knight goes all in on this cartoonishly miserable take, all the while maintaining a remarkable believability. This Scrooge is a man who made his fortune on the backs of others without ever having to mature. His signature phrase, “Bah! Humbug,” issues not like a familiar refrain from an old song, but like the real exclamation of a man who never learned another way to dismiss what he loathes. He is perfectly cast.
The spirits who visit this poor millionaire are another reason to visit the theater this weekend. The ghost of Christmas Past, angelic of voice and wearing a pagan forest crown, is played in a warm and welcoming turn by Sarah Baumgardner. Jeff Powell’s gregarious portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Present will be a familiar characterization to audiences. His imposing and bemused performance had the house I sat in laughing throughout his scenes. And here is a fair warning that Jacob Marley, embodied with great physical pantomime by Charles LaBorde, may legitimately spook your children.
The other stars of this show are the set and costume design. Many hands worked with care to create Scrooge’s Lime Street home and London neighborhood, whose structures tower over the actors with a gothic expansiveness. Combined with a large cast adorned with Dickensian clothing accurate to the period, audiences will feel transported to the setting of this beloved reminder of the true reason for the season – kindness, charity, and togetherness.