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Guthrie to revamp ‘A Christmas Carol’ for 2009

This just in from the Department of Nothing’s Sacred: The Guthrie is planning to tighten its annual holiday production into a 90-minute one-act.

This just in from the Department of Nothing’s Sacred:

The Guthrie Theater plans to completely revamp its annual holiday production of “A Christmas Carol,” tightening the show into a 90-minute one-act.

Heresy you say? Not at all.

The show has changed many times since 1975, when playwright Barbara Field (then the Guthrie’s literary manager) whipped together an adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic that used two parallel story lines.

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If you recall, Field’s original version had Dickens working feverishly on a story he hoped would finance his family’s Christmas celebration, while his wife and children nagged him to come to dinner. Having finished the first draft, Dickens began a proof reading, which morphed into the performance of the familiar tale that ended with the Christmas Day conversion of Scrooge coinciding neatly with the serving of Mrs. Dickens’ plum pudding.

That was nearly 35 years ago. Field and others have been tinkering with the show ever since. For example, the original, lively score by Hiram Titus was replaced by carols. The long-serving, abstract set by Jack Barkla disappeared. The Fezziwig ball got more elaborate, and the spirits — especially the Ghost of Christmas Past — evolved and changed over time. Dickens and his family disappeared, replaced at one point by the recorded voice of John Gielgud.

In one version I saw, dubbed “post-modernist murky,” the monk-robed Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was a 9-foot apparition that thumped on stilts, though he was hard to see through the smoke and dim lights.

When Gary Gisselman took over staging the Guthrie production eight years ago, one of Field’s first requests was “Kill the elves!” She was referring to fairy sprites that had invaded the production — presumably escapees from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Over the years, Gisselman and Field made other changes, sometimes borrowing material from other novels by Dickens to “back-story” the play.

Now another change is on the way, though the link to the past has been reinforced by casting Peter Michael Goetz as Scrooge. Goetz was in the original version back in 1975 — he played Dickens for a number of years — and he was Scrooge for three years, starting in 2001.

Over the years, 18 different actors have portrayed Scrooge (I’ve only seen 10 of them) and more than 800 performers have appeared in the cast. That’s quite a run, so far.

“A Christmas Carol” opens Nov. 19 and runs through the end of the year. Priority seating is already available to season ticket holders and groups of 20 or more. Tickets for the general public will go on sale on Sept. 8.