Ghost of Christmas Past (Keiko Green) and Scrooge (Timothy McCuen Piggee), photo credit: Dawn Schaefer.
If your kid is deep in the December gimmes, and you're able to splurge on a holiday show, I offer you the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. As staged by ACT Theatre every year since 1996, this production of Dickens' holiday classic is a bone-rattling Victorian romp that is by turns thrilling, chilling and moving; and a timeless reminder that you stand to gain the most when you give the most – not just at the holidays but all year round.
My husband, 8-year-old son and I attended last Sunday. For us, the "Christmas Carol" magic began when we realized we had parked in a garage right next to the Seattle Sheraton’s magnificent Gingerbread Village display – which is all about fantastical Seattle scenes this year (and located across from the Sheraton at City Centre). We got a few oohs and ahhs in before we fast-walked the one block to ACT Theatre, scooted up three flights of stairs – taking in the well-dressed patrons, towering Christmas tree and festive atmosphere along the way – and dropped into our seats.
ACT's "A Christmas Carol" is staged as theater in the round, which means there's not a bad seat in the house and the story feels intimate from the minute the lights go down and the snow starts to fall. Yes, snow. It’s Christmas Eve, and bells are ringing, snowflakes are gently falling, and Victorian-era folk in cloaks, bonnets and top hats are walking through the streets of London, bearing bundles of brightly wrapped presents and hailing a joyous “Merry Christmas!” to everyone they see.
But not all are cheery. An unsmiling, imposing man sits in his coal-heated office, tallying his debts, counting his money and berating his employee Bob Cratchit. He sends away all who come to his door, including carolers, men asking for charitable donations and even his nephew, who comes to invite his crotchety uncle to Christmas dinner.
“I’ll see you in hell first,” says Scrooge.
The older man, of course, is our holiday antihero – Scrooge – performed with ferocity and deep emotion by Timothy McCuen Piggee on the day we saw the play (he alternates the role with Peter Crook). The play is just 90 minutes, with no intermission (a boon for families), which means it doesn't take long to establish Scrooge's state of miserly misery and get to the good stuff: the spirits.
About those spirits. If you have young kids, especially sensitive young kids, you need consider the fear factor of the ghosts in this show. Scrooge's former business partner, Jacob Marley, is the first ghost to appear, surprising Scrooge and the audience by emerging very suddenly, looking appropriately terrifying and wrapped in chains. My family later agreed he was the scariest. The fourth ghost, the silent, black-cloak-clad Spirit of Christmas Future, was even grimmer, but by then the audience is somewhat used to the trap doors, the sound and light effects (thunder and lightning) and we were able to enjoy the delicious creepiness of it all.
Prepping can help. Worried about both the spirits and how Dickens’ Victorian vocabulary would go over with my second grader, I looked around for film adaptations of the timeless tale, and – with some trepidation – settled on "The Muppet Christmas Carol," a film starring Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit and Miss Piggy (respectively) as Bob and Mrs. Cratchit. My low expectations were exceeded, my son loved it and the ghosts were just scary enough to get him ready for the fiercer version on the ACT stage.
The magic of ACT's production is more than a spirited reminder to be kind, though. Some of our favorite scenes were the simple, joyous scenes depicting family holiday cheer: a young Scrooge dancing with his girl at the Fezziwiggs' holiday party; the Cratchits gently playing blindman's bluff with Tiny Tim (don't be surprised if your kids beg to play at home); and Scrooge's nephew Fred raising a glass to his uncle despite all.
We were especially charmed by the Bacchus-like Ghost of Christmas Present (Brandon O'Neill) who exuded a sense of delight and celebration; and by the Scrooge who emerged after his time travels to show the audience that generosity can be executed with giddiness and great comic timing. (One of my son's favorite scenes is when the new Scrooge plays a mild trick on Bob Cratchit, acting as if he aims to fire him and then turning on his heel and doubling his salary.)
Parents should know
Children need to be ages 5 or up to attend. As stated earlier, the biggest factor for kids is the spirits and special effects surrounding their appearances. Beyond getting familiar with the story, you can also help kids spot the trap doors in the stage to de-mystify the spirits' appearances. Near the end, there is also a somewhat disturbing scene where poor folk who have been mistreated by Scrooge laugh about his demise and steal from his casket and grave (this seemed to go over my son's head).
Kids will enjoy seeing other young kids on stage, including Keagan Estes as Tiny Tim (age 9, repeating his role from last year), and his sister Kalia Estes as a Cratchit sister.
If you go...
Where: ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle
When: "A Christmas Carol" is playing Tuesday–Sunday through Dec. 28; there are a number of matinee performances which will appeal to families.
Tickets: Prices start at $42 for adult tickets and $32 for children. Buy online. Standby tickets may be available by phone through the ACT Ticket Office at 206-292-7676, during business hours noon–6 p.m., Tuesday–Sunday.
Food drive: ACT is hosting a food drive benefitting Northwest Harvest. Bring a canned food donation to the theater.
Nearby fun. The Sheraton Seattle's Gingerbread Village is just a block away (located in City Centre this year). Other downtown holiday events, such as the Fairmont Olympic's Teddy Bear Suite, Pacific Place's nightly snow and Westlake Park's holiday carousel, are also close.