December 08, 2023
School of Theatre and Centre Stage to present unique adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’
No matter the set, costumes or music, “A Christmas Carol’s” themes of kindness, generosity and redemption ring clear. On Dec. 18–21, audiences will experience a unique retelling of the classic Dickens tale in an original adaptation that combines elements of 1940s radio dramas, modern musicals and high-tech theatre, presented by the School of Theatre and Penn State Centre Stage in the Playhouse on the University Park campus.
The production, a fundraiser for the school and Centre Stage, features faculty, staff and graduate students as performers and members of the artistic team, as well as community members. The adaptation is by School of Theatre Director Rick Lombardo, with original music and arrangements of traditional music by Anna Lackaff, keyboardist for Mannheim Steamroller.
“When the B.F.A. Acting faculty suggested we do a traditional, repeatable holiday event, like most professional theatres, and said that they would act in it, I was blown away by their generosity,” said Lombardo, director of the production.
The idea grew from there, with members of the school’s design and technology faculty volunteering their time as well. In addition, an audition call sent to local theatres led to seven community members being selected for the production.
The production, however, is not your typical telling of “A Christmas Carol.” Because the goal was to create something that could easily be remounted in future years, the play is being presented similar to a radio drama. Lombardo originally directed the adaptation in that format.
“We wanted to do something that was still as exciting theatrically as a live performance,” said Lombardo. “So we decided to do it as if it’s a radio broadcast but live and on stage, with the magical elements that still maintain ‘ghostliness’ and what people expect from ‘A Christmas Carol.’”
The audience is invited to imagine they are in a studio audience on Dec. 21, 1941, two weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“It was a time when the nation was in fear, when there was a lot of uncertainty. There are similarities between that moment and what we are experiencing now,” said Lombardo.
Through this production, we explore themes of benevolence and self-sacrifice at a time when the world is in conflict.”
The production features performers in 1940s-era clothing rather than costumes traditional for “A Christmas Carol.” The band—composed primarily of the actors themselves—will be on stage, as well as School of Theatre props master Jay Lasnik in the role of the sound Foley, making the rustling, clanking and other sounds that are usually heard—but not seen—in a radio drama.
In the spirit of true radio dramas, a streamlined, 90-minute version of the production will be broadcast on WPSU-FM on Sunday, Dec. 24, at 6 p.m. and Monday, Dec. 25 at 2 p.m.
“It’s another way for community engagement,” noted Lombardo.
Margaret Higgins, academic adviser for the College of Arts and Architecture and community theatre veteran, is on the performer side of community engagement as a member of the production’s ensemble.
“’A Christmas Carol’ is usually done as a straight play, without a lot of music, but this one is infused with music from start to finish,” she said. “One of my favorite things about the music is that it’s traditional Christmas carols but they have been arranged to sound spooky—like when Scrooge is having a nightmare, we are singing carols in minor keys. It’s just a wonderfully arranged adaptation of the music.”
She said she views the production as a gift shared between the community and the School of Theatre, where both benefit.
“It’s something new, something different to attend. The storytelling and music are presented in a way you have never experienced before. It’s a gift to the community, and also a way for the community to support the School of Theatre.”
“A Christmas Carol” will be presented Dec. 18–21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Playhouse Theatre, plus a matinee at 2 p.m. on Dec. 20. Tickets are $28 ($23 matinee; $15 student). For additional show and ticket information, visit theatre.psu.edu/centrestage. Tickets are available online, by calling 814-863-0255, or visiting the Eisenhower Box Office.
On Dec. 18–21, audiences will experience a unique retelling of the Dickens classic 'A Christmas Carol' in an original adaptation by the School of Theatre and Centre Stage.