Do you want a Starship Commander to stewart, er, steward you through your annual exposure to A Christmas Carol, or would you rather have your favor curried by a Sweet Transvestite? That's the question facing New York theatregoers hoping to spend a few hours of their holiday in a darkened theatre. And their choice of Scrooges couldn't be more different.
Lavish, set-heavy, tuneful and with a cast of, well, at least dozens, is Madison Square Garden's A Christmas Carol, Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens' holiday musical, now making its eighth annual stop at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. This piece is staged by Susan Stroman (original Carol director Mike Ockrent died in late 1999). And this year's celebrity Scrooge is the usually sly and sometimes salacious Tim Curry (the original Frank 'n' Furter in the film, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"). Also in the Carol cast are Tommy villain Paul Kandel, a multi-year veteran of the MSG show as Marley; Gerry McIntyre as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Titanic cast-member Martin Moran as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Catherine Batcheller as the Ghost of Christmas Future. The production runs to Dec. 29.
Meanwhile, further uptown at Broadway's Marriott Marquis Theatre is Patrick Stewart, magisterial, dignified and Shakespearean, surrounded by little or no set, armed with no score and surrounded by no cast—he's the only guy on stage! He has revived his solo, A Christmas Carol, for eight performances only, Dec. 24-30. Stewart did three sold-out holiday seasons of the show, in 1991, 1992 and 1994, plus engagements in London (1993) and L.A. (1996). The one-man production uses minimal set pieces, relying instead on Dickens' text and Stewart's ability to portray every character in the story.
(Manhattan had one other major Carol up until recently: A Gilbert and Sullivan Christmas Carol. Adapted and directed by Gayden Wren, it took the tunes of Sullivan, and paired them with words by Gilbert and Wren. It closed on Dec. 16.)
Of course, additional stage adaptations of the Dickens classic dot the United States, many of them local institutions and most of them taking a more conventional approach to the text. They include productions at: • The Alley Theatre in Houston, TX, running through Dec. 30 on the Large Stage, with Stephen Rayne doing the adaptation.
• American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, CA, lasting until Dec. 29, adaptation by Dennis Powers and Laird Williamson.
• The Guthrie Theatre of Minneapolis, MN, running through Dec. 30, adaptation by Barbara Field, direction by Gary Gisselman.
• Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, closing on Dec. 29.
Finally Seattle Repertory Theatre will revive Daniel Sullivan's meta Christmas Carol, a comedy called Inspecting Carol which proved a big regional hit a decade ago. In the comedy, a provincial theatre company presents its annual mounting of Dickens' story while awaiting the arrival of an NEA government inspector. It plays through Dec. 30.