Christmas Carol Project keeps rolling
Audiences drawn to musical interpretation of Dickens
Wednesday, Dec 26, 2012 06:00 am
There’s a smile in producer John Armstrong’s voice as he describes the 17-year longevity of The Christmas Carol Project.
“My big goal is to see it to 20 years and my dream is to take it to London, England,” says Armstrong, describing the upcoming presentation as part of Fringe Theatre Adventures at the TransAlta Arts Barns on Dec. 28 to 29.
Armstrong’s much-loved and anticipated brainchild blends together Charles Dickens’ redemptive classic with Edmonton’s top tier musicians and a lineup of original songs.
The 20-song set is composed of a crack, eight-piece band and a narrator to provide story continuity and keep the flow going.
The talented crop of singers includes Bill Bourne, Kevin Cook, Maria Dunn, Tom Roschkov, Terry Morrison, Al Brant, Dale Ladouceur and Bill Hobson. This year Dave Clark narrates the story.
“It’s a killer band. There’s not a weak link in the group. It’s not often you get this calibre of musicians and keep it together for 17 years. The chemistry goes really deep,” Armstrong says.
The Christmas Carol singer-musicians delight in performing with each other.
“We’re like a little family,” Armstrong says. “A lot of us play in each other’s gigs and recordings. But this is the only time we all get together. It’s a bit like a reunion. Maria even brings her shortbread.”
The seeds of The Christmas Carol Project appeared nearly two decades ago when Armstrong was studying arts administration at Grant MacEwan College. He noted Edmonton musicians of different disciplines cheerfully played together and often switched genres if someone needed an extra player.
His thought was, “why not showcase all the top talent and represent the different genres?”
At the time Alistair Sims’ classic portrayal of Scrooge was the ultimate Christmas vehicle. Not only was the allegory a powerful indictment of the 19th century industrial revolution, but it also had many strong character parts that could be evenly divided among the ensemble.
Local talent was approached to compose songs from the perspective of their characters. Some musicians felt they couldn’t write on demand and stepped aside. But the debut cast that embraced this approach is still the full cast that audiences see today.
Although most of the artists have a folk-roots bent, expect to hear a diverse mix ranging from pop-rock and reggae to Celtic, country-folk and even an a cappella sea shanty.
“This is very much a musical performance. Over the years we thought of bringing in a more theatrical element to the stage. We experimented getting the musicians to act, but they’re not trained as actors so we backed off.”
At any rate, this naturally evolving formula has continually attracted audiences to about 90 per cent sold-out performances.
“It’s a unique take on a classic tale and it’s a great musical performance by a killer band,” Armstrong says. “We’re completely different from other Christmas offerings out there.”
For more information visit www.carolproject.com.