If one were to have friends and family list their favourite holiday presentation, in all likelihood it would be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – even if said list was checked twice.
Though penned in 1843, Dickens’ popular Christmas fiction has endured through generations, largely due to Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from a greedy miser to a good man bent on helping others and one who eventually embraced friends and family.
That heartwarming message will be front and centre as Carter-Ryan Productions and the Fairmont Banff Springs team up to present A Christmas Carol, Dec. 2-31 in the Conference Centre theatre as part of Christmas At The Castle.
Adapted and directed by Bridget Ryan and designed by Jason Carter (Carter-Ryan Productions), with sound design by Brian Raine, the Christmas classic features a cast that includes Ryan Luhning (Scrooge), Sarah Irwin, Nicholas Rose, Greg Wilson and Tanya Pacholok.
The new co-production came about after Banff Springs staff took in the Carter-Ryan Productions offering of Mavericks in the Mountains, which was staged throughout summer in Banff’s Lux Cinema by an ensemble cast.
“Somebody called and said, ‘hey, I like what you guys are doing,’” said Ryan. “They said ‘we have a theatre’ and I thought, Great, it’s likely a conference room turned into a theatre, but they said ‘no.’
“So as soon as I came in and saw this space (seating for 200), I thought, This is beautiful, this is a nugget, this is perfect. This is a great place to have theatre programming.
“I think they saw a bigger picture of what this theatre could be used for and the value of local entertainment and when (Springs’) Taylor Jack called, I said, ‘how about A Christmas Carol that runs the whole month of December?’
“Having done it as a professional actor and knowing and seeing what happens to people when they see it during the Christmas season – it’s magical. And it’s a classic. I asked what version the cast had seen and some said The Muppets or Bill Murray’s version (Scrooged), I’ve seen the Alastair Sims version many times and there’s Patrick Stewart’s version, Jim Carrey’s …
“It’s a timeless production and every time I do it, I find myself teary eyed at the end. And Ryan Luhning is so great, it’s like he’s innately Scrooge. I’ve seen him do the show and honestly, he’s wonderful.”
Rehearsals began just two weeks ago, and the entire crew has been logging long days in preparation for the Dec. 2 opening.
“We want to bring as much theatre and liveliness as we can and also, we’re doing Mavericks at 5 p.m. some days and A Christmas Carol at 8 p.m. This is our first year of hopefully many and the cast is awesome. We’re doing a five-person version, where it’s normally 35 people.
“It’s non-stop for them. It’s a revolving door, it’s puppets, it’s costume changes, it goes on and on.”
With the Carter-Ryan/Springs production, Tiny Tim is a puppet, the Cratchit kids are puppets (among other characters) and the setting is a period piece as per the original.
While Calgary’s Ground Zero Theatre founder Luhning anchors the cast as Scrooge, the others, who were involved with the Lux operation over summer, take on eight to 10 roles apiece. Ryan’s mom Maralyn even got in the spirit of things as a voice and accent coach.
Being that staging A Christmas Carol ended up on a very tight timeline, it’s lucky that casting Luhning turned out to be a piece of cake. Initially, Ryan contacted Luhning in late October to see if he knew anybody who might be interested.
“And I said, ‘yes, me,’“ he said. “I’ve known Bridget casually for years and I’ve done this with Theatre Calgary for years (as young Bob Marley and Tom Topper). I’ve spent a lot of time watching Stephen Hair (Theatre Calgary’s long-time Scrooge) and I said, ‘let’s do this.’
“I love this story and its message of keep Christmas in your heart, every day, year-round, and be a good, caring, giving individual. When Bridget told me about doing this show, in this setting, in the castle in the mountains, it appealed to me so much. I think this should be mandatory reading.
“I’ve watched Stephen embody the role of Scrooge for years and it was always a pleasure. And this story brings so much joy to people, it’s a classic. It’s all stuff I’ve tried to embody over the last couple of years as I’ve made changes in my life.
“When this year I wasn’t doing the Theatre Calgary production, I was a little sad, because I wouldn’t get my Christmas Carol fix. So to be involved in this almost a test project, as Bridget says, and if it’s successful all around, it’ll be great. People will get to come to the mountains and see it and hopefully make it a tradition like it is in other locations.
“And people do come here to spend their Christmas in the beauty of Banff, the beauty of the mountains, the beauty of the castle. I feel very privileged and blessed to be part of it.”
For her part(s), like many, Pacholok stayed on in Banff after Mavericks in the Mountains at the Lux ended with summer.
“I loved the mountains and I was working at the Banff Centre and this opportunity came up. It was a great opportunity to come back and work with Bridget and the cast and now work with some new people in this magical Christmas production,” she said.
“It’s a great venue for it and I’m playing the ghost of Christmas past, Mrs. Cratchit, Alice, carolers and a couple of other characters. There are lots of costume changes, scene transitions and we’ve been working with a dialect coach.
“We’re working on Cockney accents, and Londoner, and that’s another layer to the show we’re all working hard on. And we’ve been putting in eight-hour days and it’s been a great experience and a great team.
“It’s cool to be re-united with the cast from summer. And I grew up watching A Christmas Carol and the Muppet version; it’s a very nostalgic, classic show that’s close to all of our hearts.”
A Christmas Carol at the Banff Springs runs Dec. 2-31, Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 8 p.m., with a Christmas Day matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $26 for adults and $16 for children and available at www.christmasatthecastle.ca or by calling 1-403-762-2211 for ticket purchase/ hotel package offers/dinner reservations).