LOWELL -- It's over 20 years since Scrooge last set foot on stage at Merrimack Repertory Theatre -- and Sean Daniels, the MRT's artistic director, felt the time was right to bring the miserly curmudgeon back in a new production of Charles Dickens' best-loved holiday story, "A Christmas Carol."
Featuring live music and Joel Colodner, an MRT favorite, it opened Wednesday, Nov. 29, and runs through Dec. 24.
"I've always been a fan of 'A Christmas Carol,'" Daniels said recently. "I love the idea that redemption is always possible and it doesn't matter how far down the road we've gone, or how old we are -- that there is always a chance to improve our lives if we choose to invest in our fellow man.
The show is particularly timely in these days when the gap between rich and poor is ever widening.
"It's a timely, urgent story for 2017, as we as a nation talk about tax cuts and what the responsibility of the rich is to support the rest of the country," Daniels said. "Dickens clearly has something to say about that. If people can't afford the services they need, should we just 'decrease the surplus population,' as Scrooge says? How much happiness can be derived by dying with as much money as possible? Dickens would say, 'Not a lot, but by easing the burden on others, we can actually improve our own lives.'
"I love that idea, and it's one I can always be reminded of. And the joy we see in Scrooge at the end, when he invests in others, is a lesson to us all.
It's also fitting to do "A Christmas Carol" here in Lowell because of Dickens' relationship to the city.
"He has such a specific relationship to Lowell, since he visited here and was inspired by the stories of the Mill Girls right before writing 'A Christmas Carol,'" Daniels said. "And his first reading of the story in Boston was exactly 150 years from our opening night, so the timing is beyond perfect."
The Tony Brown adaptation is directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, MRT's resident director, and features Colodner, last seen at MRT in "It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" and "Going to See the Kid." He uses his dexterous voice and inventive acting to bring Scrooge and the other characters to life.
"The way the story spread throughout the world is that Dickens went around reading it to audiences, acting out the parts and conveying his take on the holiday," Daniels said. "We wanted to get back to his original impulse, but with a good bit of music. So not only is Dickens telling you the story, but the music -- and there's lots of it -- is appropriate to the period of the story."
He's sure audiences will savor Colodner's performance, too.
"Joel is one of the great actors from our area," Daniels said. "To get to watch him bring the story to life is a real joy, and I find that I actually hear the story much more than I do in larger productions.
Tickets range from $26-$73 and are available at www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678. Visit the website for a list of special events in conjunction with the production.
Nancye Tuttle's email address is email@example.com.
A grab bag of holiday entertainment treats
North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly reprises its popular production of "A Christmas Carol," featuring David Coffee as Scrooge. Back for its 27th seasonal visit, it runs Dec. 8-23. Visit www.nsmt.org for tickets and info.
The Ogunquit Playhouse, in cooperation with The Music Hall in Portsmouth, N.
Boston Ballet's "The Nutcracker," returns as it has every holiday season for nearly 40 years. This version, choreographed by Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, is on stage at the Boston Opera House through Dec. 31. Visit www.bostonballet.org/nutcracker for tickets and info.
Cannon Theatre in Littleton presents "A Christmas Carol" in a radio-play version Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8 and 9. For info and tickets, visit www.thecannontheatre.org or call 978-448-2108.
Chelmsford Center for the Arts gets more naughty than nice with its production of David Sedaris' adults-only show "Santaland Diaries" on Friday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m. The show first appeared on NPR and is now a holiday staple. Appropriate for ages 15 and up. Tickets at door or www.brownpapertickets.com.
Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra return to Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Sunday, Dec. 17, with the ever-popular Holiday Pops concert at 2:30 p.m. Holiday classics, a carol singalong and visit from St. Nick are on the program. Visit www.lowellauditorium.com for tickets.