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Christmas Carols galore: Flagstaff theater, dance companies give their spin on Scrooge

Christmas Carols galore: Flagstaff theater, dance companies give their spin on Scrooge

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“A Christmas Carol” is the name of the season for Flagstaff this year.

It’s the classic tale of a bitter old man who learns the error of his ways after being visited by three ghastly apparitions. It teaches us true happiness comes from our relationships with each other rather than our full bank accounts. With this story, Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival will present its first winter performance, while Canyon Movement Company takes on its interpretation of the story for a second year.

“This show, as much as it’s been done before, still has an important message, and I think that every time people see it or read it, it’s just heartwarming in a similar way,” FlagShakes housing manager Hannah Fontes said.

Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival’s A Christmas Carol and Canyon Movement Company’s A Christmas Carol in Dance open Friday, Dec. 13. FlagShakes’ performance will run Friday-Sunday, Dec. 13-29, at Northern Arizona University’s Ashurst Auditorium, 624 S. Knoles Dr. Tickets range from $25 to $5. CMC will hold performances at NAU’s Clifford E. White Theater, 1115 S. Knoles Dr., 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as well as a matinee at 11 a.m. Saturday. Tickets are $19 for adults, $14 for students. Visit www.flagshakes.org and www.canyonmovementcompany.org for more information. See next week’s paper for a preview of Theatrikos Theatre Company’s production of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, which opens Friday, Dec. 27.

Fontes, who previously co-directed Indecent for FlagShakes, brings her fast-paced and movement-oriented directorial style to A Christmas Carol.

“Each scene is no longer than two minutes, so we don’t stay in one place very long,” she said. “We always have something fun to look at and there’s dancing and movement, and everyone plays five or six characters, so people are flinging on and off costumes, and all of the set is on wheels. Everything is just sort of swirling about.”

The adaptation was written by Claire Wittman, who arranged a mix of Christmas, Hanukkah and other holiday tunes to accompany various scenes, with music direction from Maya Rappaport. Costumes, designed by Mary Guarauldi, remain in period setting, keeping the production tethered to tradition while giving actors the freedom to bring their own perspective of their characters to the stage.

CMC’s production utilizes five different choreographers, keeping each scene fresh and exciting for both the dancers and the audience.

“We try to stay away from literal pantomiming of the story line, which is why we have the narrator, but I think all of the choreographers took it very seriously to convey the message of their dance,” director Gina Darlington said. “I like the play, and obviously I love Charles Dickens’ words, but for us it’s been really fun to interpret those words in another art form.”

A flurry of dancers portray Ebenezer Scrooge’s greed as gold coins swirling around him to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Money.” In another scene, the Ghost of Christmas Past makes Scrooge see how he used to be happy before this greed took control of him. He’s shown meeting and falling in love with his fiancée, happily dancing together, before the allure of money tears him away from her, leaving her alone on the vast stage. While much of the choreography has carried over from last year’s debut, CMC added several new scenes, including an introduction to the “Money” dance.

The children featured in each of these productions are part and parcel to the magic of the story. FlagShakes will be welcoming two of its young cast members—7-year-old Iris Gales and 12-year-old James Quincy Leve—back to the stage, with another—5-year-old Ivan King—making his debut as Tiny Tim.

“That has been a big challenge, but also just something new and fun,” Fontes said. “They also bring such a light to the room, you know, from the mouths of babes. They say the silliest things, and they just bring a freshness to every rehearsal.”

For CMC, young cast members range in age from single digits, welcoming the audience in a maypole dance at the beginning and swirling as snowflakes on Christmas morning at the end, to high school age, performing as lamplighters and gold coins.

Then there are the returning veteran performers for each show. Paul Moore of Human Nature Dance Theatre will reprise his role of Scrooge for CMC, along with his daughter Ella as one of the gold coins.

Returning actors for FlagShakes include, among others, Jim Dugan as Scrooge. Dugan has been a familiar face in FlagShakes productions, and Fontes said she has enjoyed working with him again.

“He has a specific way with poignancy that I really have not seen in other actors,” Fontes said. “He just knows how to wrench people’s hearts. He has to have the acting chops to show us that hard exterior that Scrooge has, but he also needs to have that softness that makes us love him in the end, because he does change.”

Both productions promise to be a fun evening out for the whole family to get into the holiday spirit, with a few surprises in each.

“It is kind of a dark show,” Darlington said. “We just really try to emphasize the redemption at the end.”

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