One of the reasons “A Christmas Carol” has become a holiday classic is that Charles Dickens’ 1843 ghost story about grumpy miser Ebenezer Scrooge scared of model citizenship is ultimately a story about the importance of kindness and companionship, friends and family.
So it seems fitting that the version BroadwaySF is bringing to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theater brings together a number of local actors familiar with the more usual assortment of New York actors.
Adapted by ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ screenwriter Jack Thorne and originally directed and designed by Matthew Warchus, this ‘Carol’ was born in London’s Old Vic, where it is currently starring in a fourth season. It became a Broadway hit in 2019, winning five Tony Awards for Original Score and Set Design, Costume Design, Lighting and Sound Design.
The San Francisco production stars OBIE Award-winning Francois Battiste as Scrooge, while a side-touring production visits Spokane, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
During a typical holiday season, you might find half a dozen local theaters performing “A Christmas Carol,” all using completely different adaptations.
East Bay native Colin Thomson – a frequent performer with Center Repertory Company, 42nd Street Moon and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley – plays Scrooge’s light-hearted mentor Fezziwig, a role he’s played twice before in the version that the American Conservatory Theater has done every year since 2005 (replacing an earlier version it had been doing for almost 30 years).
“It’s definitely a nice, fun time, but I think overall it’s a lighter affair,” Thomson says of the ACT version, which will be streaming this year. “It’s not that our show doesn’t have comedy and music as well, but there’s more drama here. I really appreciate the details which I think help put into context both Scrooge becoming the man we find at the beginning of the story and also to root the potential for redemption in him.
South Bay native Monica Ho plays Scrooge’s beloved sister, Little Fan. Coming straight from back-to-back runs in Lauren Yee performing “The Song of Summer” at the San Francisco Playhouse and “The Great Leap” at the San Jose Stage, Ho is a recent graduate of ACT’s MFA program, where her classmates included two of his “Christmas Carol” castmates: LeRoy S. Graham III, who plays Scrooge’s nephew Fred, and Ash Malloy, who plays Belle, the long-lost love of Scrooge’s youth.
Ho was also previously in the ACT ‘Carol’ as Fred’s wife, Mary. “It’s funny because LeRoy played Fred in both versions,” she says. “So two years ago I played his wife, and now I play his mother.”
“It’s almost like the first one is filigree and lacy, and this ‘Christmas Carol’ feels like chiaroscuro to me,” adds Ho. way as we live this story from act to act. Christmas shows aside, it’s an incredibly brilliant show. It’s dark and magical and also full of light and color and very cathartic.
Wiley Naman Strasser, who plays Fred’s friend George, is another Bay Area native who has performed with local companies such as Crowded Fire, Cutting Ball and San Francisco Playhouse. He has never acted in “A Christmas Carol” before.
“I swore I would never do it, but then this production came along, and this version sounded really fresh,” says Strasser. “I was excited that it seemed stripped of its essence. I’m not a big Christmas person, but it’s not Christmas for me. It’s about community and connection and looking at our past, our present and our future and all the different paths we have taken and can take.
Also new to “Carol,” San Francisco native Rodney Earl Jackson Jr. serves as a stand-in for several different characters on the show. Seen in recent shows such as “Toni Stone” at ACT and “Ain’t Too Proud” at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, Jackson serves as artistic director of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Company.
“You would never have thought that this conventional story would lean to truly represent the world majority, with a Black Ebenezer. We can all see ourselves in this,” Jackson says. “It’s a beautiful representation of the diversity on stage that is so free. It really represents what the story is trying to say. We have people from London, people from New York and San Francisco, all building together holiday history.
Contact Sam Hurwitt at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.com/shurwitt.
‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL’
By Jack Thorne, based on the story by Charles Dickens, presented by BroadwaySF
When: 26 Nov-Dec 26
Or: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco
Tickets: $56 to $256 (subject to change); www.broadwaysf.com