It's Christmas week in the theatre world, and all across this fine nation's stages, the main thing doing is dozens upon dozens of "new adaptations" of Charles Dickens' good ol' "A Christmas Carol." Surely, no drama -- not even Our Town or A Midsummer Night's Dream -- is more often produced. And, undoubtedly, more American actors have played Scrooge than Hamlet. (How happy Dickens would have been; like many a successful novelist, he was a frustrated playwright and actor, and adored the theatre.)
How to keep the audiences -- and, for that matter, the cast -- interested in this little Victorian chestnut has been the question at hand for many a season. Some creators have added music, as in the Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens version long ensconced in New York City's Theatre at Madison Square Garden. Many a regional production has opted for multi- cultural casting to liven things up, or has set the story in another time period -- a device which apparently works as well on Dickens as it does on Shakespeare. And Patrick Stewart kept himself busy playing every role in his version of the story, which played Broadway several seasons back.
In Chicago, meanwhile, actor Rick Snyder has found his own way to keep himself amused. A few years back, Snyder, an ensemble member at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, was playing Bob Cratchit in the Goodman Theatre's staging of A Christmas Carol. Last season he switched over to Scrooge, no doubt to keep the creative juices flowing. He will play Ebenezer again this year. But don't be surprised if Jacob Marley is starting to look good to the versatile Snyder.
While Dickens reigns on America's stages, most front offices closed for the holidays this week and few decisions were made. However, it was revealed that joining Philip Bosco in the Broadway production of Copenhagen would be Blair Brown. Brown is very popular these days. She began the year as Fraulein Schneider in Broadway's Cabaret, then spent the summer in the Williamstown Theatre Festival's production of Tennessee Williams' Camino Real. With the fall, she appeared Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in The Dead, a show now playing a limited run on Broadway. If she keeps this pace up, people will be calling her the female Brian Murray.
Since taking his final bow as Broadway's The Scarlet Pimpernel last March, many a theatre watcher has wondered where Douglas Sills -- the best thing in Pimpernels "1.0" and "2.0," many critics agreed -- would turn up next. Well, now it can be told; Sills' next role will be -- the Scarlet Pimpernel. Yes, the actor is returning to the show that made him famous, starring in the post Broadway national tour. Though the road show is booked through summer 2001, Sills will stay with the company only 17 weeks. Elsewhere, Christmas will end the day after Christmas for the cast and crew of If Memory Serves. The Off-Broadway show, at the Promenade Theatre, starring Elizabeth Ashley and Sam Trammell, will close Dec. 26 after only 20 previews and 16 performances. That leaves a big, fat Off-Broadway house open for the taking. The early bird that has gotten the Promenade worm is Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery, which played at Williamstown this past summer in a production directed by Scott Ellis and starring Eileen Heckart (though Joanne Woodward took over during the final performances). Ellis and Heckart will repeat their duties in New York; previews begin March 10.
Finally, Lyle Leverich died on Dec. 17 at the age of 79. Though not a household name, his passing is, to the theatre community, perhaps the most regrettable of the year. Leverich has known Tennessee Williams well, and, in 1995, after many years works, he produced "Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams," an authorized biography of the playwright's first 34 years. "Tom" received the George Freedley Award as best theatre book of the year and many readers would have been comfortable calling it the best theatre book of the decade.
But Leverich was 75 when he finished the book and it was uncertain whether he would live to complete the second volume of biography, titled "Tenn: The Timeless World of Tennessee Williams." Alas, Leverich died with only a third of the volume complete. There is no word as to whether the publisher intends to release the incomplete work, but I would encourage them to do so. Any word of Leverich's concerning Williams ought not be lost.
That's all for now. Until next week, Merry Christmas and enjoy the often low-tech, largely conventional, but still highly effective theatre of the holiday season.
--By Robert Simonson