Kevin McGuire and Michael Bush aren’t afraid to tell you their favorite renditions of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.”
McGuire likes “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” and Bush gets a kick out of The Muppets’ version, and while they both can present strong arguments for their personal preference, all that is about to change with the Capital Repertory Theatre production of Patrick Barlow’s 2012 adaptation of the Dickens holiday tale beginning with previews Friday night and opening next Tuesday.
“This is the best version of “A Christmas Carol” I’ve ever read,” said McGuire, who plays Ebenezer Scrooge, while Bush, the director, offered this praise: “This the freshest, most inventive version I’ve ever seen.”
Barlow is a British playwright who also adapted Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” for the stage in 2008 — that effort collecting two Tony Awards and six nominations in all. In his version of “A Christmas Carol,” Barlow was quoted as saying, “the beating heart of Dickens is still safe and sound within,” and Bush and McGuire certainly agree.
Learning the rules
“You’re going to recognize this, but I don’t think it’s going to be like any other ‘Christmas Carol’ you’ve seen,” said Bush, who is directing his fifth production at Capital Rep. “I actually decided I needed to talk to Patrick because I wanted to make sure I understood what the rules were. He basically told me the rules are whatever you want them to be.”
’A Christmas Carol’
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl, Albany
WHEN: Previews Friday through Sunday; opens Tuesday and runs through Dec. 22; performance times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; check schedule for other matinee times
HOW MUCH: $60-$16
MORE INFO: 445-7469 or www.capitalrep.org
The Capital Rep production is just the second one to be staged, the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington having hosted Barlow’s world premiere in December of 2012. One critic there called the production memorable and “spectacularly inventive.”
“This story is actually about a group of carollers who try to get Scrooge to sing with them,” said Bush, who has worked with numerous Broadway shows as artistic director. “That’s why it’s named ‘A Christmas Carol.’ They are determined to convert Scrooge, but to do that they have to scare him to death.”
“Scrooge hates Christmas but he loves the idea of people spending money,” said McGuire, who lives in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. “So he’s reveling in that. People spend more money, he lends more money to them. It’s a wonderful part and Barlow’s language is so rich and of its time.”
“I think this is going to be the most fun two hours you’re going to have during Christmas,” said Bush.
“Barlow is such a good writer, but he’s also given me a free hand, so you’re going to see me tip my hat to the Marx Brothers and use a little something from their films. There are so many different styles of comedy in this play, but I’m also a sentimental sap. I’ll cry during Coca-Cola commercials during the holidays, and the other day when Kevin hugged Crachet in rehearsal I started tearing up.”
McGuire, a Hoosick Falls native who created The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge in 1999 after a long stage career, is in the middle of what you could call his second career.
Having already performed as Jean Valjean on Broadway in “Les Miserables” and as the title character in “The Phantom of the Opera” in Toronto, he returned to upstate New York and Washington County to begin his own theater troupe.
While that endeavor proved successful, he grew weary of being an artistic director and part-time actor. He left Hubbard Hall three years ago and has been busy ever since all over the country, including Capital Rep, where he performed in “Red” this season and as Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha” last year. This production of “A Christmas Carol” is his first opportunity to play Scrooge.
“My Scrooge is a little bit different in the sense that he’s not as iconic,” said McGuire. “I’m not twisting myself into knots to get the character, but it’s been very interesting figuring out who he is. He’s very solid in the beginning, and then he begins to unravel until the end when he becomes a human being again.”
McGuire said he greatly appreciated George C. Scott’s portrayal of Scrooge in the 1984 made-for-television movie, but it’s the 1962 “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” with the voice of Jim Backus, that’s his personal favorite.
“It’s my favorite because Mr. Magoo is such a weirdo,” said McGuire, laughing. “You get why people are afraid of him. I have a little of Mr. Magoo in me, and I’ll tap into my own inner Scrooge that’s in there somewhere. But I really enjoyed that animated cartoon, and I also liked the George C. Scott version. That was a wonderful film.”
“I know I’m being flip, but ‘The Muppets’ is really good, too,” said Bush. “And I think this version we’re doing is closest to ‘The Muppets.’ It’s for the entire family.”
Joining McGuire on stage and portraying a host of characters are Kevin Kelly, Marcy McGuigan, Doug Trapp and Kristyn Youngblood. In addition to juggling roles, the four create even more characters with puppets and straw dolls, and they also sing a number of yuletide favorites providing all of their own accompaniment on a variety of instruments.
The set designer for the Capital Rep production is Boston University grad and New York City-based Paul Tate dePoo III, working for the first time in Albany. Also part of the crew are Karen Ann Ledger, costume designer; Cory Pattak, lighting designer; and Brad Berridge, sound designer. All have previous experience at Capital Rep.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.