TEEN AMBASSADOR: ZANE COX| DECEMBER 10, 2016
Everybody has holiday traditions. Whether it be dinner with family, looking at lights, or watching movies, nearly everyone has something to do around the end of the year. At the Zeiterion, that tradition takes the form of Nebraska Caravan Theatre’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel A Christmas Carol. Since 1982, A Christmas Carol has been the longest-running annual show that the Zeiterion has had. Nebraska Caravan Theatre’s simplistic set design, music, and lighting ensure that the performance is consistent every year, but also manages to mix in new and improved bits of script and dialogue that make for an enjoyable classic every December.
This year’s performance included some new and interesting changes that had never before been seen. One of these changes was the casting for Ebenezer Scrooge. Traditionally, Scrooge is played by an elderly man, usually in his 60’s or 70’s. This year, however, Scrooge was brought to life by a man in his late 20’s who had played the role of Scrooge’s assistant, Jacob Marley, the previous year. Some may think that this would be an odd choice of cast, but the new Scrooge brought new energy to the show that could only be partially channeled by an older man. His youth allowed him to move more dynamically, to use the entire set to his advantage, to work with the robe in which he was wrapped in for much of the time. Another change from the previous year was the recasting of Tiny Tim as Belinda. As the young girl that had previously played Tiny Tim had grown quite a bit over the year, she was re-casted as Belinda, the Cratchit family’s middle daughter. A female Tiny Tim at first seemed strange to me, but after some research, I found that it’s surprisingly commonplace among productions, as young girls can oftentimes still be small enough for the role when they get old enough to act, and usually have a higher singing voice.
One thing that I had failed to notice in previous years were the musical and visual cues signaling certain parts of the script to begin. The biggest examples of this are the brief instrumental melodies by the orchestra between scenes. For example, in the first transition from Camden Town to Scrooge’s house, the clarinets and flutes will play an extended note until every prop and set piece is in place. This is just one of many unique elements of the show inserted to ensure that no moment is left silent. Another detail that can be missed entirely are the silent stories happening on the sidelines of the main plot. During the periods that the main cast is speaking during the opening scenes in Camden Town, the rest of the townsfolk are occupied with their own lives – some are customers at the food carts, deciding which holiday treat to buy, while others simply mingle. In any of these cases, each of these brief stories (in which the villagers are not speaking, but simply miming the actions and mouthing the words) has a coherent storyline to follow. They may begin with a young fellow stopping to see the bread for sale, pondering over the choices, and end with that same person paying for the goods and saying goodbye. Though these may be seen as a simple way to add some other movement during the main cast’s dialogue, the care and detail put into them is yet another testimony how much effort Nebraska Caravan Theater puts into their performances, and how focused they are on even the small things.
Since the 19th century, A Christmas Carol has been an unforgettable story that will be retold for generations to come. Though there may be many more adaptations in the future, none will be as ingrained in my memory as Nebraska Caravan Theater’s spectacular running performances. Through a script that can leave you laughing one minute and crying the next, timeless songs that capture the feel of the 1800’s, and musical cues that are never a moment too late, every aspect of the show comes together in perfect harmony, like pieces of a puzzle. A Christmas Carol will continue to be one of my favorite annual shows, and I certainly hope Nebraska Caravan Theater will continue to come to the Zeiterion for many years to come.