“A Christmas Carol” at The Public Theatre has become a Twin Cities holiday tradition, and this year some new family-friendly show times promise to make the performance even more accessible.

“It’s a perfect lift-off for your holidays,” said Christopher Schario, TPT’s artistic director, who wrote this adaptation several years ago.

“In one hour and ten minutes you get the whole Dickens story, so it’s not too long for children; and it has a big happy ending.” Just the Dickens story may be enough for families with young children, but those who choose to stay for the “second act” will be treated to Jennifer Amstrong’s musical “Celtic Christmas.”

Schario’s stage version of the Christmas classic is fast-paced with six talented actors taking on multiple parts as ghosts or members of the Cratchit family and other familiar characters.

With a simple stage setting, a handful of props and some imaginative costuming, his production draws faithfully upon Dickens’ own words to weave the perennial Christmas magic.

This year’s cast includes some new and familiar faces to The Public Theatre. Following his critically acclaimed performance in the recent sold-out hit “The Woman in Black,” Michael O’Brien will return to the role of Scrooge.

Christmas Carol veterans Russell Berrigan and Janet Mitchko will also return as various ghosts, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit.

Several newcomers

Having played all the female roles in this adaptation over the years, Mitchko returns this year as Mrs. Cratchit with the hopes of keeping her theatrical eye on her daughter, Emily Schario, who is making her Public Theatre debut as Tiny Tim.

Other newcomers to the cast include Pierre Marc Diennet as Fred and the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Betsy Enck as Belle and Fan. Diennet was previously seen at TPT in “An Infinite Ache,” and before her recent move to the Chicago area, Enck was a regular in the Portland theater scene.

Also making his TPT debut is Sean Demers, who will provide live sound effects on an old-fashioned wind machine and a thunder sheet and will also perform the role of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

An on-stage fiddler is a fixture of Schario’s adaptation and that role will be filled by Armstrong, internationally acclaimed musician, folksinger and storyteller who also provides a glorious second act to the evening when she performs her production of “Celtic Christmas.”

This mix of music and stories has Armstrong accompanying herself on fiddle, guitar, banjo, bagpipes and more as she spins her Celtic enchantment.

TPT’s technical director Adam Klein will design the lighting for both productions.

Schario’s adaptation begins with a child reading a copy of Dickens’ novel. As the child reads, five actors and a fiddler magically appear bringing Scrooge and Dickens’ text to life.

With the fiddler underscoring the story, the actors switch locations and characters with amazing theatrical dexterity. Aided by a handful of costumes and props, they slowly coax the child into joining the story and becoming the character of Tiny Tim.

It’s a marvelous metaphor for the way literature grabs and transforms us, as well as an original way of illuminating this inspiring tale of human redemption.

Schario recalls a day 10 years ago when a group of six actors and a fiddler sat onstage at The Public Theatre in Lewiston for the first read-through of his original adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” Since then, the adaptation has been published by a prestigious firm and it has been produced throughout the country.

‘It has been done all over’

This year, Tony Award-winning director Jack Hofsiss and a prestigious cast of actors met in a mid-town Manhattan studio to rehearse Schario’s adaptation for its run at the famous Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, N.Y. This is Bay Street Theatre’s second season performing Schario’s adaptation.

“Although my version has been produced by scores of theaters around the country, this is the largest and most prestigious theater to have performed it so far,” Schario said.

The Bay Street Theatre is run by Emma Walton, daughter of Julie Andrews and designer Tony Walton, and Sybil Christopher, former wife of Richard Burton.

Bay Street Theatre is often used as a try-out venue for playwrights Horton Foote, Paula Vogel and Terrence McNally, and is well known to New York audiences as a place where actors such as Richard Dreyfuss, Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones, Diane Wiest, Alan Alda and Kate Burton come to perform.

“It has been done all over,” Schario said. “Every year, we get a list of 20 or 30 theaters around the country where they have produced this show. It’s quite an honor to have my adaptation chosen over the dozens of other ones out there,” he said.

Since this is Schario’s own adaptation, it’s Lewiston where you see it performed as originally intended.


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