This year, when audiences return to the Alley Theatre for A Christmas Carol, they won't be immediately plunged into Dickensian England.
Instead, says director Brandon Weinbrenner, "You'll meet a troupe of actors in 2021 on the stage of the Hubbard Theatre, there to put on A Christmas Carol. The stage has been dark and they're missing a couple actors."
Most pressing: the loss of two key actors— one playing Scrooge (he ate the Christmas dinner and was fired), the other Tiny Tim. There have been pared down versions of the Charles Dickens classic tale of greed and ultimate redemption before, but never one that didn't have Ebenezer Scroogle and the crippled Tiny Tim in them.
How they find substitutes to fill those roles makes for a play-within-a-play story both enterprising and entertaining.
First presented in digital form during the pandemic ridden 2020—21 season that shut down live performances across the board, this Doris Baizley version of the oft-told tale seemed especially relevant this year, says Weinbrenner, who is also the Alley's Associate Producer and Casting Director.
"It just felt like the right adaptation," says Weinbrenner. "To present ourselves as the Alley Theatre you know and love."
Other differences: This production is less scary and more family-friendly, Weinbrenner said, adding that it focuses more on "joy and redemption." Alley Company member David Rainey who has performed Scrooge several times before is back in the lead role. Other veterans of past Christmas Carols include company members Elizabeth Bunch, Dylan Godwin, Shawn Hamilton, Chris Hutchison, Melissa Molano, Melissa Pritchett, Christopher Salazar and Todd Waite.
Juan Sebastián Cruz, Christine Friale and Luis Quintero round out the rest of the cast. And we're not forgetting the usual horde of child actors because this version doesn't call for any and it probably wouldn't be wise given lingering COVID-19 dangers. (I know, wait, what about at least Tiny Tim, you say. You'll see.)
To be performed without an intermission, this A Christmas Carol doesn't take itself too seriously, Weinbrenner says. "It really focuses on the transformation of Scrooge and the ghosts and people that help propel his transformation."
Even in this version, Weinbrenner says, presenting A Christmas Carol on stage with changes from the Michael Wilson version Houston audiences have seen for many years is no easy enterprise. But again, he thinks this adaptation is more in keeping with our present day.
"The stage has been dark," he says, "but as long as the heart and story telling is there, the story will come through."
Performances are scheduled for November 19 through December 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays — as well as assorted student matinees. No Thanksgiving Day performance. Proof of COVID vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours are required for all guests 12 and up. Face masks are required. For more information, call 712-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $28 -$121.