Original tunes breathe new life into timeless story
After 18 years and 90 performances, The Christmas Carol Project is showing no signs of waning.
In fact, the popular musical retelling of the Ebenezer Scrooge story will be performed as a return engagement on Wednesday on the Red Deer College Arts Centre stage.
All the original musicians first seen in Red Deer last year will be reprising their “roles.” This means they will sing original tunes written from the perspectives of characters from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Top hat-wearing Bill Bourne, originally from Innisfail, will depict the miserly Scrooge through Bah Humbug (“If you think I care, you don’t know me very well”) and other songs.
Tom Roschkov will embody timid clerk Bob Cratchit, and Maria Dunn will portray his lame but hopeful son, Tiny Tim.
The cast also includes Terry Morrison, Al Brant and Dale Ladouceur as the three Ghosts, as well as Kevin Cook, Bill Hobson and actor Dave Clarke as the narrator.
The Edmonton-based musicians will bring together diverse musical genres, including folk-roots, Celtic, blues and pop, in telling the redemptive tale — and that was the idea from the start, said the Project’s mastermind and producer John Armstrong.
He was attending Grant MacEwan College as a music student in 1995 when he caught Scrooge — the 1951 Alastair Sim movie version of Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol — on television.
Suddenly the gears in Armstrong’s mind began turning.
He had noticed how many great professional musicians there were in Edmonton, and how many were flexible enough to adapt their styles to fit various groups they played with. “They could collaborate and cross genre lines, so a guitar player might be a blues guy, but he could still sit in with a country band. Or you could have a jazz trumpet player sitting in with a rock band.”
Armstrong conceived a musical interpretation of A Christmas Carol to showcase the diverse talents of Edmonton’s music community. The participating performers would song write their own parts, so to speak.
He approached some musicians near the end of 1995 and by the fall of 1996, The Christmas Carol Project was essentially written — except for three new songs that were added a few years later to expand upon the story.
Roschkov, an R&B and soul singer best known for playing with the Swingin’ Ya Band and the Stone Merchants, for instance, had decided to write one of the new tunes about how hard life was for Cratchit.
Armstrong said he always thought Roschkov was a natural to play the put-upon clerk. “I thought Cratchit should have a blues background.”
He also thought diminutive Maria Dunn, a Juno-nominated storytelling songwriter, was a great fit in the role of big-hearted Tiny Tim. Dunn, who melds North American folk with Celtic music, has often shown a social conscience in her songwriting.
As for Scrooge, the money worshipper who learns to value altruism after three Ghosts take him on a tour of his life, well, Armstrong said Bourne was an obvious choice. “He had the hat,” he joked.
“No, no ... I think he’s a great performer and we needed a strong Scrooge.”
Juno-Award-winning Bourne, a mainstay on the international blues scene and a favourite in Central Alberta, loves to collaborate. He has worked with many other musicians over the years, including Madagascar Slim, Lester Quitzau, Shannon Johnson and Alan MacLeod. He has also jumped between many musical genres, including blues, Cajun, Celtic, funk and world beat.
Armstrong is thrilled that all the original musicians have stuck with the Project for so long — and that audiences across Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and B.C. have supported the show that’s yielded a CD and television special.
He hopes to eventually tour it through Saskatchewan, Manitoba and even Eastern Canada.
Underlying the whole endeavour is Dickens’ timeless Scrooge story. “There wouldn’t be so much collective enthusiasm” about the Project, said Armstrong, without its message of valuing people over commerce, which continues to resonate with audiences young and old.
It’s being presented in Red Deer by the Central Music Festival Society. Non-perishable food bank donations will be collected at the door.