Get into the holiday spirit with classics on the Twin Cities' biggest theater stages

By Lianna Matt

For the past 42 years, the Guthrie Theater has been putting on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and for the last 29 out of 30 of those productions, Nathaniel Fuller has been on the playbill. He’s played more than nine roles, including Jacob Marley (his first appearance), Charles Dickens, Bob Cratchit (Tiny Tim’s father) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and this year from Nov. 14-Dec. 30, he is playing Ebenezer Scrooge for the fifth time. At this point, he definitely knows the part, but if you want to add more to his credibility, he has also been the role’s understudy 22 times.

Somehow, Fuller doesn’t tire from the play, and neither does the audience that comes to see it year after year. Part of it is the magic of the ghost story, part of it is the overflowing generosity at the end, and part of it is the reminder that second chances do exist.

Courtesy of the Guthrie. Nathaniel Fuller as Scrooge, right, examines a gold coin in the 1995 production of "A Christmas Carol."

Nathaniel Fuller, right, during one of his previous performances as Ebenezer Scrooge in 1995. Photo courtesy of the Guthrie Theater.

“It’s a very stark way of illustrating what it means to be alive as a human being,” says Fuller. In order to try and protect himself, he [Scrooge] … is going to play one game, and that game is gain. And when you don’t do that, you’re not alive. You make yourself invulnerable, and you don’t live life. I think Dickens’ message is that life is all about sharing and human contact and celebrating with each other.”

Every year the show goes through a few changes, though, and this reincarnation will see a few more than normal. “A Christmas Carol” is helmed by a new director, Lauren Keating, who has brought in a new choreographer and has shifted the tone of the story from the joking moments to a greater focus on the storytelling in a move that Fuller says “gets a lot of the essence of Dickens.” Other touchups to the show have come about, too, and Keating has made it a very collaborative environment.

However, some things never change, even as cast and crew may rotate. During the show’s run, the whole theater comes together and donates money to a family that could use something a little extra for the holiday season. There’s also Secret Santa and an annual Jammy Breakfast, where everyone in “A Christmas Carol” wears their favorite pair of pajamas and shares the most important meal of the day before one of their 10:30 a.m. shows.

Between the cast and crew of “A Christmas Carol” and the audience that makes the pilgrimage year after year, the play is as much of a modern Twin Cities holiday tradition as you can get. Longtime performers like Fuller may have to block off large parts of their social calendars for the play, but to them, it’s worth it to spread just a little more holiday spirit.

The holidays are a time when people usually return to the classic stories they grew up with or ones with sweeping grandeur that indulge in the decadence of the season, and this year's productions certainly don’t contradict that. Discover which treasured story (or stories) tickles your feathers this season at some of the biggest names in theater in the Twin Cities, and check out our regional holiday theater roundup here.


(Dec. 7-31)
Sometimes the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in downtown St. Paul brings in touring productions, but with “Annie,” it’s an Ordway original with a cast filled with locals and Broadway talent. With well-known songs like “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” and “Tomorrow,” the musical “Annie” wraps up the year with spunk, heart, and plenty of “awww” moments revolving around Marti, the Golden Retriever-Chow mix who plays Annie’s dog, Sandy.

A Christmas Carol

(Nov. 14-Dec. 30)
After 42 years, we still can’t get enough of the Guthrie’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” See it star the man who has been a part of the show for 29 of the last 30 years, Nathaniel Fuller, as Ebenezer Scrooge. Talk about a holiday tradition. Our editor, a longtime Twin Cities resident, finally got to check it off her bucket list: Check out her review on it here.

Blithe Spirit

(Nov. 25-Jan. 14)
The undead usually aren’t fodder for light-hearted comedy, but “Blithe Spirit” sure makes it seem natural. To research the supernatural novel he’s writing, Charles Condomine and his wife host a séance and invite the medium Madam Arcati and his friends. However, things go a little awry when Madame Arcati brings back Condomine’s first wife—who’s not too pleased to see he remarried.

Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas

(Nov. 7-Jan. 7)
Created by the Children Theatre company’s play development lab, Threshold, in collaboration with the Dr. Seuss Estate, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” has been a local favorite for years and has plenty of new surprises for those only familiar with the book or the movie adaptations.

The Phantom of the Opera

(Dec. 13-31)
The Phantom of the Opera” is nothing if not spectacular with a 52-member cast and orchestra team. Listen to the notes soar above the stage, and follow the dark twists and turns of the Phantom’s devotion to the singer Christine even as she herself is falling for her childhood sweetheart. Don’t forget to look ahead to 2018, too: “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Weber’s sequel to “Phantom” is the finale of the Orpheum’s Broadway season.


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