Charles Dickens,
A Christmas Carol
as told by Patrick Stewart
(AudioWorks/Simon
& Schuster, 1991)

A girlfriend from long ago made sure her memory would always be linked to Christmas the year she gave me tickets to see Patrick Stewart one-man performance of A Christmas Carol on a Broadway stage. Yes, indeed. The Jean-Luc Picard of the Star Trek set was tackling the famous words of Charles Dickens! I'd never heard the like until those tickets rested in my hand.

And what a show! Standing solitary on the broad stage, dressed in a casual suit and surrounded by a few scant props, Stewart wrapped his voice around the venerable tale, dripping honey from his tongue and squeezing meaning from each word. Not a syllable was wasted.

The memory is wonderfully captured in audio form, cassette and CD. From the first words, the litany of proofs that old Marley was dead, to the merry jubilation of old Scrooge's redemption, Stewart tells the tale with the acumen of a master wordsman. I'm not a big fan of audio books, preferring to hold the text in my hands and read the words with my own eyes. But Stewart isn't simply reciting lines. This is a performance of the first order, a stage production missing only the visual element to be complete.

Each scene has its own mood, each character its own voice, from the keyhole urchin ("God rest ye merry, gentlemen, may nuffink you dismay...") at Scrooge's door to the light tones of young Scrooge's waifish sister and his former fiancee, from the affable joviality of Fred, Scrooge's nephew, to the piteous singing voice of sickly Tiny Tim.

Scrooge himself has an appropriately sharp and biting voice, while the ghost of Marley (Jacob, not Bob) sounds like Boris Karloff with a sinus infection.

Stewart paints moods as well, from the stark loneliness of Scrooge's boyhood to the joyous frivolity of the Fezziwig's ball. You can almost taste the goose and pudding on Mrs. Cratchit's sparse table.

There are a few extras not available on the Broadway stage, such as overlaying Scrooge's Christmas Eve snorings with the "ka-doing" of Scrooge's old clock ringing the hour. Mostly, however, the recording sticks to the pure narrative without embellishments.

Shadows of the things that have been, indeed.

[ by Tom Knapp ]



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