Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tea House Christmas Carol

One of my goals at the TH is for my kids to attend a cultural event each year. Two years ago we went to Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe Concert. Last year, there was Handel's Messiah.

This year, Bronwyn hit on the very thing: Theatre Calgary's A Christmas Carol. Her church's staff was going on Wednesday evening, and there was availability for a group for the matinee performance on Thursday, December 22. She gave me the contact information for Carolynn Tyson and Brad Carter, Theatre Calgary's group sales manager and the caterer who works out of Foothills Alliance respectively.

I sounded out my staff: "What do you think about A Christmas Carol for the TH Christmas event?" I asked. 

"Which Christmas Carol?" "Will we have to sing?" 

"No - Dickens' Christmas Carol," I reassured them. 

"Which one was his?" "Who is he?" "I don't think I know him ..."

That settled it. I called Carolynn and emailed Brad.

And, just like that, everything was put into place and all we had to do was be there at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

Just before 1 o'clock I walked to the locked doors of the Max Bell Theatre and was immediately whisked inside the elegantly decorated lobby, to be greeted by none other than Carolynn herself.
The lobby, with Carolynn waiting to greet us ...

A more gracious hostess
you could not find!

She took me upstairs to get a glimpse of the private lobby where the TH family would be having lunch, and she introduced me to Brad's staff and also to John Fortunka, the Theatre's Front of House Manager.

Then we went back downstairs and heard John announcing that the Front Of The House ... Was Now ... Open. The staff, who had been lounging about desultorily, sprang into action and to their positions. The doors swung open and I beckoned for my group to enter.

After the normal muddle of checking coats and looking for a few people who were in turn looking for cheap parking (in downtown Calgary? I guess I didn't warn you enough times ...!), Carolynn guided us upstairs to the third floor.

What a welcome at the bottom of the stairs!

Sign at the entrance to the private lobby area
Happy Birthday, Curt!
When most of us were in, I welcomed everyone and Dad said grace; and then I decreed that the order to the buffet would be, as it is in the TH, shortest to tallest - but that Curtis, on his seventeenth birthday, should be able to get into the line early ...

The food - a selection of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, punch, and tea and coffee - was the perfect introduction to a "stand-up" reception for my kids. But all too soon John's dulcet tones started to come through the speaker system: 15 minutes ... ten ... five minutes before the curtain, ladies and gentlemen! Carolynn was there for us, shepherding those of us who needed the elevator into the right one, and directing the rest of us down the stairs. We had the entire rows B and C, the fourth and fifth rows from the front - perfect for seeing the actors' expressions and all the detail of the sets!

The house lights dimmed and words started flashing across the thin curtain ... Charles Dickens' words:

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little tale to raise the Ghost of an Idea
which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves,
with each other, with the season, or with me.
May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant,
Charles Dickens
And the magic began ... Marley was dead, of course. We know that. But from that moment on, we were led down new paths of mystery and enlightenment, beauty and quasi terror. Stephen Hair commanded the stage, but never by force. His Scrooge this year, under the direction of Dennis Garnhum who also adapted the play, plumbed the depths of Ebenezer's pain that was manifest as, well, Scrooge-ishness.

The set was magnificent. The costumes were gorgeous. The music - ahh, the carols! - were sublime. The story moved along at a clipping pace with pauses for throat-catching scenes such as riding the bedroom window with the Spirit of Christmas Past into Ebenezer's childhood misery and, much later, visiting Tiny Tim's grave with the clever, formidable, silent Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come. 

The rollicking fun of the new housekeeper trying to keep all the dishes and food on the dinner tray was little Maya's favourite part of the whole thing; and the Fezziwigs' Christmas party was joyful and loving in a way that made you want to apply for a job with them immediately. 

The skating party on the Thames, silver blades flashing and little silver flasks on hand to keep the chill off, conjured a wonderful dinner party thrown by Scrooge's nephew, Fred, and Fred's new wife. Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's clerk, was terrific; the entire family, with the tiniest of Tiny Tims, was spot on.

And through it all, the snow fell. Big, fluffy flakes of snow that drove Scrooge past the point of even the fa├žade of patience with his fellow man on this waste of perfectly good working hours. As the story glided its way along its course, he began to be able to ignore and at last to appreciate and even to revel in the snow.

At intermission, my little group crowded our way back to our lobby, where Brad's guys had set out desserts and fruit for us. The conversation was animated ... how could that Scrooge guy be so mean? Were you scared of the ghosts in the very beginning? Only for a moment, but then when they laughed it was okay. How did Marley fly right up to heaven from his coffin? Do you think that could happen, Pastor Ironside? Wasn't Marley mean too? Well, I thought the part with Robinson Crusoe was the coolest. D'you think all those books had stuff written in them? Hey! Try one of these cup cakes!

Our own beautiful Maya,
herself dressed like Christmas
Twenty minutes disappeared as fast as the sweets and we all trooped back down to our seats.

The second half was as enthralling as the first. And when Scrooge finally caved and saw the error of his ways, an audible sigh rippled along rows B and C. This wonderful story of the redemption and transformation of someone who appeared to be a heartless, penny-pinching tyrant had once again found its mark.

But there was one more moment of rapture in store and that was at the end of the show. It had started to snow again - this time, Scrooge raised his hands to embrace it, a benediction of sorts - but suddenly there was a universal gasp: it was snowing all through the theatre! The magic of the play literally touched every one of us.

They received a standing ovation, of course - who can remain on your feet when your heart is bursting?

 After the heartstring-tugging plea by Stephen Hair on behalf of the Food Bank and Theatre Calgary's "Toonies of Turkeys" campaign (no wonder Calgary raises so much money - one must go where this Scrooge leads!), we slowly wended our way toward the coat-check, sleepwalkers with no desire to awaken.

My kids' eyes were like stars as they hugged me and earnestly thanked me for the day. "I never knew a play could be like that!" one said to me fervently.

Oh, my kids ... God bless you, every one!

(Trudie Lee Photography is the photographer for all the official Christmas Carol photos in this post. Read the Calgary Herald's review and the Calgary Sun's review of this extraordinary production. To listen to a CBC interview with the charming Stephen Hair, who plays Scrooge, click HERE, then click on the Play arrow.)

1 comment:

  1. It was a wonderful afternoon. Thank you so much Karyn! I'm with Maya: I loved the bit with the housekeeper being troubled by the mischievous spirits -- a brilliant twist on using audience imagination. Instead of putting the audience in a position to see what isn't there, the trick was in making the audience believe they couldn't see what was there, and the teacup floated in the air!


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