There are plenty of great Christmas traditions to be found in the Pasadena area — from cruising the holiday lights along Altadena’s Christmas Tree Lane to shopping in Old Pasadena. Add A Noise Within theater’s inventive production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to the list, as it begins its sixth annual run from Friday through Dec. 23, offering a fresh vision of the classic tale.
Featuring spectacular touches including ghosts floating into the theater from above and a man who wears a nine-foot tall suit made of fruit, the theater’s take on Dickens’ holiday novel becomes more elaborate each year under the expert direction of Julia Rodriguez-Elliott. According to ANW resident artist Rafael Goldstein, who plays Ebenezer Scrooge’s genial nephew Fred as well as Young Scrooge in this year’s production, her desire to have each year’s edition surpass the prior ones.
“Julia has such a visual imagination and eye for detail,” says Goldstein, a lifelong Altadena resident who is returning to “Carol” after sitting out last year’s production. “It’s the same sense of play she brings to the table every year, making the play bigger, deeper, more detailed.
“It would be easy to play it exactly the way you did previous years, but Jeff and Julia won’t have that,” he continues. “They remind us each year to think about every scene, read and reinvest in every scene. Also by virtue of aging and being a different person than you were last year personally you can’t help but bring new things to a role and keeping it fresh.”
Meanwhile, fellow cast member Deborah Strang has played the Ghost of Christmas Past for all six seasons of “Carol.” She previously played Mrs. Cratchit in a much older ANW production of the play, but finds that the story never grows old for her.
“This story gets me every time, and I frequently will reread the novel because I find it to be inspiring,” says Strang. “I think I personally am more the Scrooge, a cynic about the holidays, but when we do this play, I have this wonderful entrance as the Ghost of Christmas Past that gives me a perspective on the audience, looking down and seeing all these faces looking up in awe.
“That’s really inspiring, because whatever I felt for the day, seeing little kids and grown-up kids looking like newborns and gazing on my character gets me moved immediately,” adds Strang. “I’m the one who takes Scrooge back into his past to times that were joyful and times that were lonely and sad. I take that journey with him each time. It’s a magical, emotional journey with him every single time we do the play. Do I reflect on my own life each time? No, but I really do take that journey into Scrooge’s past.”
Rest assured, despite all the surprising visual elements and even some musical numbers, the ANW production remains very closely tied to Dickens’ original work. While Strang appreciates the rare experience of having a “home theater” in the ever-shifting theatrical landscape of Los Angeles thanks to performing there for 26 years, she notes that there’s one other way in which Rodriguez-Elliott’s annual effort remains special.
“Every word in it is taken right out of the novel itself, and it’s period,” says Strang. “It’s not a musical, but there are some songs, and it’s fantastical even though it’s straightforward. I also play the Charwoman and I break out in a really bluesy song about Scrooge, while there’s a dance number too at the Fezziwicks’ home.”
“A Christmas Carol” runs from Friday through Dec. 23 at A Noise Within, 3300 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. Tickets are $25 to $55. Call (626) 356-3100 or visit anoisewithin.org.