Another Shout out! Vue Weekly Issue #897 – Dec 27, 2012 – Jan 2, 2013

The Christmas Carol Project

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(Maria Dunn as Tiny Tim, Bill Bourne as Scrooge, photographer uncredited) – Kev
Scrooge, singing the inner curmudgeon away

“Last night was our 88th performance,” John Armstrong says, “and amazingly enough, I don’t get tired of hearing it.”

For Armstrong’s The Christmas Carol Project, 88 performances translates to 17 years of a roots music take on Dickens’ beloved tale of Scrooge’s holiday redemption (plus a CD, DVD release and a TV special to boot). The core cast, as always, remains unaltered: Bill Bourne, Maria Dunn, Dale Ladouceur and myriad other musical talents perform original songs that tell the story, with narration from Dave Clarke bridging any storytelling gaps that remain. That 88th performance was down in Red Deer, but recent years have seen the project touring to the likes of Vancouver, Whitehorse and Yellowknife. Still, while few major changes have altered the project’s content during its life, Armstrong says that there are smaller, organic alterations that happen over the years: on this particular run, he notes, lighting design from Kevin Green has given the show a more theatrical edge, while Clarke—the relative new guy of the bunch, having joined the ranks in 2010 to replace longtime narrator Kenneth Brown (who had replaced the original, Richard Winnick, back in 1998)—in particular seems to be finding his groove.

“Normally our audiences only applaud after the songs, but last night, after each segueway of narration they would also applaud, so the musicians had to wait for the applause to die before starting their songs. I think he’s just really taking ownership of the part, and sinking his teeth into it,” Armstrong notes.

The project’s 17th year coincides with the 200th birthday of Dickens, and that this, his perhaps best known, most-beloved story—written in just two months to pay off debt, no less—still carries a significant cultural weight is something Armstrong has no trouble speculating on.

“We’ve all felt a bit like Bob Cratchit, or maybe felt a bit like Scrooge, and realized that they maybe weren’t thinking enough about the people around them,” he says. “It’s just a classic take of a guy who’s not doing as well as he could in the world, as far as relating to his fellow human beings, and then the gets a second chance. I think everybody can relate to that, getting that second chance, and then tying it into Christmas, and presenting it in such a powerful way, looking at past, present, future. It’s just a brilliant idea, and it’s amazing that he knocked it off really quickly.”

Fri, Dec 28 – Sat, Dec 29 (8 pm)
Westbury Theatre, $35 (advance), $40 (door)