The Twin Cities will have its most storied holiday tradition again, although altered because of the pandemic.
A version of "A Christmas Carol," a holiday touchstone at the Guthrie Theater for 45 years, will stream online during the holidays in a film adaptation of the script that Dickens himself adapted and performed.
It will be shot by director E.G. Bailey, who assisted Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj on his memorable production of "King Lear."
"There will be 'A Christmas Carol' after all and at a time when our bruised and battered spirits could use it the most," Haj said.
After laying off 79% of its staff in May and announcing that it didn't expect to mount another show until March 2021, the Guthrie is excited to be producing again.
"After six months of just wrestling with all of the administrative load figuring out how to keep the Guthrie going, it's such a comfort and so exciting to put focus on an artistic endeavor," Haj said. "And this story of one man learning that he's responsible not just for himself but also for his neighbor is something we need more than ever."
The millions of people who've seen "Carol" at the Guthrie over the past 45 years have had a particular experience that involved 40 people onstage with costumes and music and choreography transporting them into a special, supernatural realm. This pandemic "Carol" will be very different. It will have only four actors — Charity Jones and Nathaniel Fuller, both of whom have played lead character Ebenezer Scrooge, and "Carol" regulars Ryan Colbert and Meghan Kreidler. The title of the reworked version is "Dickens' Holiday Classic."
In researching "Carol," Haj found that Dickens distilled his 1843 novella for spoken performance into four staves, or chapters. At the Guthrie, each actor will deliver a stave. Dickens toured "Carol" for 20 years, including toggling between stops in Boston and New York in 1868.
"That was just two years after the end of the Civil War, a country that had gone through incomprehensible loss and was incomprehensibly divided and trying to find some sort of common ground," Haj said.
The filmed version of "Hamilton," which streamed on Disney Plus, changed the landscape of filmed theater.
"If you're Disney and you've got 13 cameras and $11 million to throw at 'Hamilton,' your outcome can be pretty good," Haj said. "Otherwise, it's just one camera in the back of the room for archival purposes. Showing that as a film is unmitigated disaster."
"Carol" will be purpose-built for the screen and will offer the Guthrie an opportunity to serve an even bigger audience. The film will be available to K-12 schools for free. Otherwise, tickets will be $10 per household and go on sale Oct. 6 at 11 a.m. at 612-377-2224 and online at guthrietheater.org. It will run Dec. 19-31.
"I like to say that the Guthrie was built by the people of Minnesota as a gift to themselves," Haj said. "Getting this out, at very low cost, to households around the state is really exciting for me."
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390