By Cameron Rasmusson
Chances are good you’ve seen Charles Dickens’ holiday staple “A Christmas Carol” adapted dozens of times over the years. But you’ve never seen it like this before.
A mix of classic and original elements, “Christmas Carole” hits the Panida Theater stage this weekend. A riff on the well-known Dickens story featuring a script by Becky Revak and original music by John Maio, the play brings energetic and heartfelt spectacle to the holiday season.
According to Panida Theater Director Patricia Walker, Revak and Maio’s production is one branch of an effort to bring more original plays to the historic venue. When Revak and Maio agreed to take on the project with only a few short months of lead time, they knew they had their work cut out for them.
“We sat down and thought of what we could do,” Revak said. “That’s when we got the idea of turning ‘A Christmas Carol’ into a musical.”
Both individuals have talents well-suited to the task. Revak is a veteran of Hollywood film and TV productions, having spent years in sound and camera technical work. Her team received an Emmy nomination for their work in the TV show “Northern Exposure.” John Maio has a similarly varied creative career under his belt, having composed music for projects like Discovery documentaries.
“John Maio is one of those hidden gems who chooses to live in Sandpoint because he enjoys it here,” Walker said.
For this latest project, Maio focused his talents onto the classic story of Scrooge, albeit one with some major creative license. Once the cast was finalized, Maio customized his songs to each individual actor, making revisions for different vocal ranges and levels. The result is original music that takes the audience through an emotional journey of laughter and tears.
“He’s been working nonstop since we started this and has written a total of nine songs, although not of all them will be in [the play],” Revak said. “Like a true artist, not all of them were up to snuff for him.”
Using “A Christmas Carol” as a jumping-off point, Revak shaped the narrative around the traditional structure of discovering the holiday spirit through a haunting by spirits of Christmases past, present and future. Outside of that basic format, however, the play is strikingly original, drawing from Revak’s own experiences. For instance, the Tiny Tim character is reshaped by Revak’s relationship with her nephew, who died at a young age from a brain tumor.
“The most surprising part of the experience is the melding of the words and musical together,” said Revak. “Seeing that come to life on stage is pretty phenomenal.”
“Christmas Carole” is also a valuable educational opportunity for the cast and crew. Following up on the Panida administration’s goal of being a center for artistic training and skill-building, the play’s creative team brought in some top-tier technical minds. Chief among them is Linda Hardy, a make-up artist who has worked with the likes of Ben Affleck and Jane Seymour. She instructed the crew on the art of make-up design and helped shape the look of the cast, especially the three ghosts.
“I just gave her photographs of how I wanted everyone to look, and she was able to help me go through the cast, take notes and instruct all the actors,” Revak said.
With “Christmas Carole” set to premiere this weekend, the stage is set for a holiday celebration. Gather up the family and enjoy the Christmas spirit together, because there’s nothing quite like the holiday cheer of live theater.
“For me the greatest part is the magic when the lights go down and the audience is there,” Revak said. “There’s a palatable magic that you feel. Whether you’re watching the play or in it, that never gets old.”
Catch “Christmas Carole” 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, Saturday, Dec. 17, at the Panida Theater. A second weekend of shows is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 22, and Saturday, Dec. 23. There will also be a 3:30 p.m. Sunday matinée on Dec. 18. Buy tickets online at www.panida.org or at the door on show nights. Online ticket prices are $16.09 for adults or $10.83 for youth.