A Christmas Carol at the Alley Theatre



Season’s greetings! One of the best ways to jumpstart the holiday season is to catch a live performance of Charles Dickens’ timeless Yuletide classic A Christmas Carol, and the production currently on stage at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas is magnificent and grand.

Growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, it was a family tradition to visit The New Vic Theatre each holiday season and go on a ghost tour with old Ebenezer Scrooge. A Christmas Carol is the play I’ve seen the most (by a long shot), but I never grow tired of the experience. As a youth, I was equally excited about the “chocolate fuzz” drinks they sold in the lobby as I was about the play, but the show always managed to work its magic and leave me buzzing with holiday cheer (probably with some help from those fuzzes). Despite watching the play enough times to be able to jump in and take over in the event Mr. Fezzywig passes out, it’s always fun to see how different productions switch things up and handle elements like the sets, the costumes, the script, and the entrances of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

During the pandemic, I enjoyed the Alley Theatre’s virtual performance of A Christmas Carol. When the show could not go on, at least in person, the Alley’s resident acting company performed their bits from home with charming results. It was a fun consolation, but this year I was very much looking forward to seeing David Rainey, Todd Waite, Elizabeth Bunch, Shawn Hamilton, Dylan Godwin and the rest of the team in full costume on their home court in the Alley’s Hubbard Theatre. (They returned last year, but I didn’t make it down.) Adapted and directed by Rob Melrose, this an impressive production with a huge cast, gorgeous costumes, impeccable set design, and cool effects.

David Rainey as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Lynn Lane

One necessity of any worthwhile telling of A Christmas Carol is a Scrooge that can humbug with the best of ’em and David Rainey is no slouch. He slides into the character’s top hat, pajamas, and disposition comfortably and carries the dynamic part with ease. Other necessities are Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future that make an impression and are worth talking about on the car ride home. This production excels with the ghosts. Each of them is memorable in special ways and worth mentioning in momma’s station wagon after the show. I won’t reveal the details here (or which actors play the ghosts) because they’re better left as surprises. I will say that the sight of Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future standing on stage in the fog is an incredible image, one that I won’t soon forget. It looked epic and haunting and it felt downright Shakespearean with shades of Kurosawa’s Dreams, Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, or a live-action Miyazaki.

A production of this scale requires much technical wizardry behind the scenes and making the magic takes a lot of effort from multiple departments. Salute to magicians Michael Locher (Scenic Design), Raquel Barreto (Costume Design), Cate Tate Starmer (Lighting Design), Cliff Caruthers (Sound Design), Jim Steinmeyer (Illusion Design), and Afsaneh Aayani (Puppet Design) for their wonderful contributions. There are lots of moving parts behind the curtain and on stage, and the performance I saw (the first of the season) went off without a hitch. Christopher Windom’s choreography was smooth and the large cast meshed well, decked out in immaculate period garb.

Cameron Starnes as Tiny Tim and Dylan Godwin as Bob Cratchit. Photo by Lynn Lane

My one criticism would be the appearance of Jacob Marley. He has a great entrance, but his costume isn’t on par with the other 3 ghosts. His “chains” were small and thin and they looked shiny and new like Mardi Gras beads, not like the heavy burdens of a tormented soul. Actor Chris Hutchison does a fine job in the part, but he looked like a mix of Beetlejuice and a Bowie-esque rockstar and I think his costume could’ve hit a little harder. The rest of the cast’s threads are more becoming and two of the ghost’s appearances (Present and Future) are especially impressive.

The set is something to behold. I marveled at its movements and loved watching parts of it rise into the air or lower into the ground. While the Alley’s Hubbard Theatre is much bigger than The New Vic, I still consider it an intimate performance venue, but it’s never felt bigger than it did the other night as I sat watching Scrooge, the Cratchits, Tiny Tim, and the rest of the gang do their thing. This is an epic take on Dickens’ classic.

The set before Act I. Photo by Adam Sanders

Overall, the play is a lot of fun and unless you’re more cold-hearted than Scrooge himself, you’ll most likely leave the theatre full of cheer, ready to indulge in the holiday season. Bring on the Christmas lights, the tree decorating, the present wrapping, the hot chocolate drinking, the Christmas music and the carolers (well, maybe not the carolers). Time to break out the mistletoe and pass the egg nog.

Shout out to the Alley Theatre for doing it right and really going big for Christmas. The lobby was full of uniquely decorated Christmas trees, they had a special egg nog cocktail for adults, and an impressive hot chocolate bar with all the fixings the entire family can enjoy. I recommend seeing A Christmas Carol this holiday season and every holiday season. It makes for an enjoyable date night or family night out, and even if you’ve seen it before, it’s a good one to revisit during the holidays for spiritual calibration. Tis the season!

A Christmas Carol is on stage at the Alley Theatre through December 30th. Tickets here.

The cast. Photo by Lynn Lane
Elizabeth Bunch and David Rainey. Photo by Lynn Lane
Peter Theurer and David Rainey. Photo by Lynn Lane
“Give Love, Give Style” tree at the Alley Theatre. Photo by A. Sanders
Carol Borchardt, Jimmy Criss, and Tasha Criss enjoy the egg nog. Photo by A. Sanders
Hot chocolate bar at the Alley Theatre. Photo by A. Sanders
Santa and his helper. Photo by A. Sanders
“Queen of Hearts” tree at the Alley Theatre. Photo by Claudia G
“A Hard Candy Christmas” tree at the Alley Theatre. Photo by Claudia G
Pro tip: Order drinks for intermission before the show and they’ll be ready at halftime. Photo by A. Sanders
“Anything for Salinas” tree at the Alley Theatre. Photo by Claudia G
“Three Kings” trees at the Alley Theatre. Photo by Claudia G
The set before Act II. Photo by A. Sanders

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Salty Winters

Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.