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CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJoAnn Wilchek Basist (Carole Scrooge), “Christmas Carole 1944,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOJoAnn Wilchek Basist (Carole Scrooge), “Christmas Carole 1944,” Civic Theatre of Allentown.

Curtain Rises: ‘Christmas Carole 1944’ a fresh evergreen at Civic

Saturday, December 21, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

For its 30th anniversary production of “A Christmas Carol,” Civic Theatre of Allentown looked to several other anniversaries for a new twist on the stage version of the Charles Dickens’ novella.

“Christmas Carole 1944,” Dec. 6 -21, main stage of Nineteenth Street Theatre, Allentown, salutes several other anniversaries, including the 30th anniversary of “Christmas Carol” at Civic.

“We did it 20 years ago,” says “Christmas Carole 1944” Director-Choreographer William Sanders, Civic Theatre Artistic Director.

“We decided to recycle it this year because of the anniversary of D-Day.

“It’s the 75th anniversary of D-Day and it’s a Christmas [in ‘Christmas Carole’] that takes place in 1944 during the war.

“We had talked about putting a woman in the role [of Scrooge], and in keeping with the ‘Year of the Woman’ [theme at Civic] and giving JoAnn [Wilchek Basist] a shot,” says Sanders.

“Part of it is, too, is that she’s [Wilchek Basist] been involved in every [‘Christmas Carol’] production for the past 30 years, in some way or the other.

“Sharon [Glassman] was the female Scrooge. And she [Wilchek Basist] was Marley. And this time, they’re switching parts.”

Wilchek Basist plays Carole Scrooge and Glassman plays Janet Beth Marley in “Christmas Carole 1944.”

There were other changes for the 2019 “Christmas Carole 1944” show at Civic. Says Sanders:

“It has a whole different set design. There’s a New York City skyline and the design is influenced by the image of a radio because radio was the prevalent media.”

Sanders says “Christmas Carole” invokes previous Civic “Christmas Carol” productions:

“It contains every traditional element that people have grown to love and it has a lot of fun surprises.

“Part of the impulse to do it was to mix it up a little and make it fresh for us and the audience. And then next year [2020], going back to the original. That’s also going to make it fresh.

“It’s about absolution and redemption,” Sanders says of the Dickens’ classic. “And I think there are people of both genders who could use that in this day and age.

“It’s such a not only timeless but well put together story, and everyone from Mr. Magoo to Susan Lucci can do it [the Scrooge role]. So, it works.”

Sanders was delighted to collaborate with Wilchek Basist.

“She’s one of my dearest friends and colleagues, so that has been a joy.”

Sanders and Wilchek Basist looked at the ways actors previously played the role of Scrooge and also at roles played by females in movies of the 1940s.’

“We discussed a lot of those movies of Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford from the ‘40s,’ those hard-as-nails characters from the ‘40s.’ The way her character [Carole Scrooge] responds, even in the colloquial manner of the ‘40s,’ is so different.”

The contrast of “Christmas Carole 1944” to the Victorian England of traditional “Christmas Carol” productions is significant.

“In the ‘40s,’ there’s a lot more bluster and expression of outward anger than there would have been in Victorian England,” says Sanders, who watched a video of Civic’s “Christmas Carole” production of 20 years ago.

“I spent four and one-half weeks rewriting it [the ‘Christmas Carole’ script] and researching lingo and the many ways people have told this story. I’ve looked at almost every different version. I’m kind of “A Christmas Carol’ junkie, so it was kind of fun.”

Sanders had fun, too, with set and prop details in “Christmas Carole 1944”:

“She’s [Carole Scrooge] head of a cosmetics firm and then owner of a department store, Scrooge & Marley’s. There’s even Scrooge & Marley’s shopping bags - white with bright red lettering.”

Tickets: Civic Theatre of Allentown box office, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 19th Street Theatre, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943