‘God bless us, every one!’: ‘Christmas Carol’ brings magic back to TheatreSquared

‘God bless us, every one!’: ‘Christmas Carol’ brings magic back to TheatreSquared

When TheatreSquared carries on its tradition of presenting the Amy Herzberg- and Robert Ford-penned adaptation of Charles Dickens’ holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” this year, the show will launch in a different world than it did in 2020: Northwest Arkansas is recording fewer covid-19 cases today than it did a year ago, allowing T2 to produce the show for live audiences, versus the streaming performances of the last holiday season.

In other words, with streaming shows available as well, this year should be a lot more “God bless us, every one!” and a lot less “Bah! Humbug!”

“We were in quarantine for the first few weeks of rehearsal, so we were doing it on video,” remembers Bryce Kemph of the 2020 production. He reprises the role of Scrooge in this year’s version of the play. “And then once we got into the room, I was terrified, because we had one week to get it up and ready to go. This year is a lot different.”

It’s different in several ways: In addition to live audiences, Kemph will no longer have the heavy lifting of portraying five or six different roles, as he did last year, when Herzberg and Ford re-imagined the play with just two actors. There’s also the fact that this show will be performed in the Fayetteville Public Library’s still-new event center — fitting, as this adaptation takes place in a library, in the immediate aftermath of the release of Dickens’ new novel, “A Christmas Carol.”

“I’m excited to see the show grow,” says Joanna Sheehan Bell, T2’s director of marketing and communications. “I think one of theater’s magical superpowers is revival, so it’s super fun to get to come back to this adaptation two years later, with this concept that takes place in a library, here in an actual library. It’s exciting to see that connection and then to watch it grow even more. It feels like there’s going to be more magic, more fun, more humor, more humanity. It’s going to be even more powerful, because it’s just going to get richer every year that we do it.”

The set, designed by Martin Andrew, is nothing short of majestic: Iron spiral staircases and towering bookshelves — packed full of volumes the design crew tirelessly created by stretching printed canvas over Styrofoam forms — give it a rich, period feel. Since all the action takes place within the walls of the library, Andrew has built in stagecraft tricks and illusions to make moving through time and space easier.

“One of the magical things about this production is how much is made out of what’s on stage at the very beginning,” says Bell.

Given how many movies and plays of “A Christmas Carol” have been produced over the years, it’s obvious that the source material is evergreen. Kemph says the impact of this particular production is attributed to the meaningful adaptation Herzberg and Ford have given it.

“Amy always brings art and humanity to everything she does,” says Kemph. “It’s what makes her such a great director. And theater is the study of what it is to be human. You can fall into a trap with this show of, ‘Let’s just do “A Christmas Carol”,’ but we approach it like, this is a human person, and we’re going to perform it that way.”

Michelle Jasso, last seen in T2’s production of “American Mariachi,” plays the librarian and Mrs. Cratchit. She says “A Christmas Carol” was a staple in her household when she was growing up, but this is the first time she’s performed in a stage adaptation of the book.

“You walk into the library, and then you see a library on stage, which is really fun,” she says. “The conceit of the adaptation is that everything that happens happens within the library. It’s all conjured by a little boy’s imagination as a librarian is reading the story to him aloud. So it’s really fun and very imaginative. Not to give too much away, but every single piece of scenery and furniture is used to help tell this story.”

Working on a holiday show can mean cast and crew must spend hours away from their family members at a time of the year when togetherness is at a premium — but Kemph and Jasso are lucky enough to be working on this project with loved ones. Ruby Kemph, T2 costume shop manager and resident designer — and wife to Bryce — is the costume designer on the show, while daughter Cora is one of the young actors playing Fan, Scrooge’s little sister. Cora played Tiny Tim in the 2019 production but in this role, she says, she has “a lot more lines.” There’s another thing that makes this role particularly exciting.

“It’s super fun,” she answers when asked what it’s like to be on stage with her father. “We get to do a dance.”

“You want to do it?” her father asks her.

“Sure — you’ll have to hum,” she answers, as the duo demonstrate the adorable jig they’ll perform on stage.

Meanwhile, Jasso’s fiancé is scenic designer Martin Andrew.

“We’ve been together for four years, and this is the first time we’ve worked together,” says Jasso.

And isn’t this kind of togetherness a perfect backdrop for this show? After all, one of the things Scrooge learns to appreciate is the love and affection of those closest to them. When asked why this show might be particularly relevant in today’s times, Kemph points to one of Fred’s most emotional lines in the play.

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”



‘A Christmas Carol’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays through Dec. 26

WHERE — TheatreSquared at the Fayetteville Public Library, 401 W. Mountain St., Fayetteville

COST — $10-$54

INFO — 777-7477 or theatre2.org

Categories: Cover Story