From Christmas past to the virtual present: Riverside performs A Christmas Carol

Riverside Theatre hit all the right marks with their one-man performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ It’s a gift for theater-lovers and classics-lovers alike.


Photo of the cast and crew members of Riverside Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. Contributed.

Jenna Post, Arts Reporter

Riverside Theatre brought one of the oldest Christmas stories to the new world of virtual theater. A Christmas Carol was made available for streaming on Nov. 27 through the theater’s website.

Despite the bare stage, equipped only with a music stand and a podium, watching the show filled me with a sense of normalcy, during a year that’s been anything but normal.

A simplistic take on a classic tale was just what I needed to get into the holiday spirit in 2020. Because of the financial struggles and job loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the story of a man learning to be more generous and to care for his community felt especially relevant.

For the entirety of the show, composer Tara McGovern accompanied actor John William Watkins’ performance with her fiddle. Watkins narrated and played each role, most notably including Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.

Originally written by Charles Dickens in his novel of the same name in 1843, “A Christmas Carol” follows Scrooge, a rich and greedy businessman who hates Christmas. Throughout the story, he learns the consequences of his actions and grows to be a better person. The theatrical version was first published a year after the novel’s release.

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The show is essentially a dramatized reading, with adaptations made for pacing and readability. Thanks to a few key camera angles and Watkins’ wide array of facial expressions, the play remained visually engaging throughout the entirety of its runtime.

Watkins kept the energy up during the performance, never wavering. McGovern’s musical cues also helped the performance feel lively.

Composer Tara McGovern plays during Riverside Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. Contributed.

The fiddle-player punctuated dramatic moments with equally dramatic trills and set the mood in each scene with well-chosen music. McGovern played Gloria to begin and close out the show, which gave me the sense of the opening and closing of a storybook.

Watkins’ acting was captivating. Unlike Patrick DuLaney, who starred in Riverside’s previous one-man show, Buyer and Cellar, Watkins took a more theatrical approach to differentiating his character voices.

Because this story has such iconic characters, his approach worked well. His Scrooge voice was as curmudgeonly as could be, Tiny Tim’s voice was appropriately, well, tiny, and Jacob Marley’s ghostly wail is one I won’t soon forget.

His narration voice was very satisfying. The actor delivered on annunciation, inflection, and rhythm, as any good narrator should. His ability to quickly switch into a character voice made it all the more impressive.

This is the kind of show that made me appreciate storytelling in its purest form. While I miss the elaborate costumes, sets, and lighting of pre-COVID-19 theatre, this play serves as a great reminder that, at the end of the day, a story that makes you feel something is what theatre-lovers are really after.

Like Tiny Tim’s family, it’s about making the best of what you have.