A Huron County Christmas Carol At The Blyth Festival
As near as I can tell, Blyth’s 2023 remounting of 2019’s A Huron County Christmas Carol sticks pretty close to the original script, but with a largely new and energetic cast it seems like a completely new show.
Artistic Director Gil Garratt’s devilishly clever updating of Charles Dickens’ classic parable of the Christian message, minus the Christianity, transposes the story to the nearby environs of the Blyth Festival.
In A Huron County Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge and his late partner Jacob Marley have created a monopoly of the grain elevator industry, turning the business into an international powerhouse. The setting may be Huron County –including a shout out to local legend Doc Cruickshank and his weekly Barn Dance Show on station CKNX – but the plot is pure Dickens and you know it like the back of your hand.
Another thing that’s not in the Dickens original is the terrific country-inflected score by John Powers. His songs, put across by the seven-member cast, all of whom seem to play multiple instruments and play them well, turn this Huron County Christmas Carol into a quasi-musical.
Stratford festival alum Randy Hughson is back as Scrooge and it’s hard to imagine that Blyth would have revived the show without him. He is superb in the role, his comic villainy at the show’s opening a pure delight.
The remainder of the superb cast of A Huron County Christmas Carol is new and I am obliged to tip a hat to each of them.
George Meanwell, whom I am most used to seeing as an onstage troubadour in Stratford Festival Shakespeare productions, makes a terrific Marley. He also plays Doc Cruickshank and even entertains the crowd during intermission on a small squeezebox.
Bruce Horak is a revelation in several parts including the downtrodden Bob Cratchit and Cactus Mac in the Barn Dance sequence – vastly different in each role. He has a beautifully modulated and supple voice which serves him well in his role as the show’s narrator.
Trish Lindstrom, another Stratford veteran, plays both Ebenezer’s first love and Bob Cratchit’s long-suffering wife and brings a needed note of gravitas to the proceedings.
Rebecca Auerbach shines in multiple roles (but then so do most of the others). She creates a droll Spirit of Christmas Present and is an absolute hoot as the auctioneer in the Christmas Future sequence who auctions off Scrooge’s worldly goods and his immortal soul “to the gentleman in the last row with the horns.”
Graham Hargrove is a master percussionist who with seemingly little effort creates a remarkably spooky Spirit of Christmas Past and then switches gear as Scrooge’s unfailingly cheerful nephew Fred.
This year’s Tiny Tim (Jonah Aaron Manley who played the part in 2019 has aged out of the role) is Felix Dawe who looks far younger than his twelve years. Tim suffers from an unnamed affliction which requires him to wear supplemental oxygen in a backpack and Dawe is angelic in the role. He has the knack of a much more experienced actor to land a line with precisely the delivery that will elicit a belly laugh from an audience.
What’s more, Dawe is an accomplished musician – he plays in his family’s band, The Honey Sweethearts! Tim’s Christmas present to his impoverished parents is a song of his own composition, which he sings sweetly while accompanying himself on the piano. It’s the emotional core of the show and a truly beautiful moment.
Yes, A Huron County Christmas Carol is awash in sentiment, but Garratt, who also directed, is canny enough to lard his script with enough dry wit to get the audience chuckling before the whole affair tips into wanton sentimentality.
Set and lighting designer Steve Lucas and costume designer Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston reprise their roles from the 2019 production. The sound designer for the 2023 production is Adam Campbell.
A Huron County Christmas is an excellent reason to pull on your mukluks and make the trek to Canada in the pre-Christmas cold. The Blyth Festival will surely be tempted to make it an annual tradition – at least as long as Randy Hughson wants to play the lead.
A Huron County Christmas contines at the Blyth Festival through December 22, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets visit the Blyth Festival website.
Don’t miss another review or blog post! SUBSCRIBE HERE.