A Christmas Carol is a moving, witty, smoothly written piece of 19th-century propaganda about being a nice person all the time -- and maybe just being extra-nice at Christmastime -- and removing that stick from up your butt already. It works so well and is so very in the public domain (and therefore royalty-free -- royalties paid to authors can be a big expense for a small theater) that stage versions are extremely popular and, as we've mentioned, can be quite different from one another.
This is a good place to mention that once upon a time, three men were killed in three separate car accidents on Christmas Eve. At the Pearly Gates, St. Peter said, "I really wanted to take a half-day, so let's make this easy. Just show me something Christmasy from your pockets, and into Heaven you go."
The first man pulled out his keys (we guess he wasn't the driver in his accident) and shook them up and down to make them jingle. "Get it?" he said. "Bells! Christmas bells!" And through the gates he went.
The second accident victim pulled out a cigarette lighter. He clicked it on. "It represents a candle," he said. And so he was admitted to paradise.
The third man searched desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's panties. St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And just what do those symbolize?"
The man replied, "They're Carol's."
And, indeed, the opportunity to have actors sing Christmas carols and thereby call your show a "musical delight" of some sort is another reason that A Christmas Carol is an obvious choice.
But choosing whose A Christmas Carol to see? It's a minefield (and we intend no insensitivity to the victims of actual mines). People don't haul off and decide to tackle David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, say, just because it's December and they figure it can't be that hard. You (almost) never know what you're going to get, as Forrest Gump's mama said.
The Valley has six Christmas Carols on stage this season, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if that's not even a record. Only two of these specific versions have been presented here (or maybe anywhere) before, to the best of my knowledge. Um, yay, surprises? And nobody's doing the official big stage musical this year, which admittedly requires a significant commitment of resources and might receive a warmer welcome if it returns after a few years off.
Some of the producing companies have done other versions -- sometimes what I've thought were perfectly good versions -- in the past and have apparently changed their minds and assayed a different one this year. Don't ask people who run theaters why they do things unless you have a stiff drink in front of you and a long time before your next appointment. (Some of my best friends, etc.)
So we'll riff on the options using the information available, mostly to bring them all to your attention in one big clump. Click in the headings to buy tickets or get more info.
In order of how soon they close:
Southwest Shakespeare Company, through Saturday, December 21: We should note here that this show is at Playhouse on the Park in central Phoenix. Southwest Shakespeare presents mostly at Mesa Arts Center, and we'd hate it if any of you drove to the wrong place and missed your curtain.
Fountain Hills Theater through Sunday, December 22: This première was written by FHT honcho Peter J. Hill, who for sure knows his way around a musical. It does feature "beautiful original melodies," which usually scares the poop out of me because an original melody is the starting point of every Bad New Song. (To be fair, it's the starting point of every song.) Theater Works -- TIMES TWO! Saturday, December 7 - Sunday, December 22: Peoria's TW is not merely presenting its annual A Christmas Carol by Richard Powers Hardt (a bona fide local playwright), with new ghosts from the designer who made Big, The Musical's Zoltar spring to near-life. The company's YouthWorks program also brings us A Fairy Tale Christmas Carol, for which Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus, who wrote the screenplays for The Lion King II, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure, 2010's Jack and the Beanstalk, and "many, many others," are getting paid royalties.
You can tell it's for kids because of the imitation Disney font! But it also has kids in it. It might be just great. Let us know. Arizona Family Theater through Monday, December 23, sort of: It's not called Arizona Family Theater only because everyone who runs it has the same last name. The company puts together short, crowd-pleasing shows that can tour to care centers, community service facilities, or your house, if you book one!
This Carol script was adapted by Barbara Wood, longtime drama educator and local actor/director. You can see a full schedule here, but you shouldn't just walk in on a performance without determining first whether it's open to the public. Some of those are announced on the troupe's Facebook page, or you can call 480-245-3652 to check.
Hale Centre Theatre, through Tuesday, December 24: Oh, goofy, sweet Hale. You won't schedule Sunday performances, but you'll play with us right up through Christmas Eve. I like this show. I'm sure it's at least as good, and as much fun, as it was when I first saw it four years ago.
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With two separate, clearly identified casts, you can even pick which performance makes for better actor-stalking. We're kidding. Don't stalk.
Meanwhile, historic downtown Gilbert just gets hipper and hipper. There's a Postino now! Shut the front door.
God bless us, every one.