Songs carry the show as Bah Humbug! stays relevant to our city in 2018

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      Adapted from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol by Michael Boucher, Savannah Walling and Jay Brazeau. Directed by Renae Morriseau. An SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs and Vancouver Moving Theatre production, in partnership with Full Circle: First Nations Performance. At SFU Woodward’s in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts on Sunday, December 9. Continues until December 22

      From Blackadder to Bill Murray, there have been countless adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But this is the first one I’ve seen set in our own backyard.

      In this version of Dickens’s classic tale, Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Byrnes) is a sketchy real-estate investor and operator of pawn shops and single-room-occupancy hotels. He lives on the Downtown Eastside, but is not of the Eastside. He has no time for his neighbours or local charities. Echoing a famous line of the original, he offers an alternative to the local shelters: “Are there no prisons?”

      Meanwhile, his long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit (Tom Pickett) is an addict in recovery and Bob’s son Tim (Stephen Lytton) faces demons of his own.

      The production strikes all the familiar A Christmas Carol notes: Jacob Marley, the three ghosts, the tombstone, all viewed through a very Vancouver lens. It’s full of local references, from Save On Meats to Oppenheimer Park, and it’s inflected with First Nations imagery.

      The show sits in a kind of awkward spot between play and musical revue. There’s little in the way of set or staging, and the performers’ blocking is quite static. Things are enlivened by muralist Richard Tetrault’s lovely projections, rendering familiar locations in woodcut style.

      The songs carry the show, with the music a mix of traditional, original, and popular music. One of the oddest parts of the original story is when the creepy kids, Ignorance and Want, climb out from beneath the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present. In this production, Jenifer Brousseau and Jason Sakaki play the two kids, scrambling out to sing a couple of verses of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”. Likewise, the ensemble offered a touching cover of Randy Newman’s homage to precipitation, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.”

      Like the original story, Bah Humbug! ends on a very earnest, Up With People–type note. While I know it’s Christmas and all, it was a little hard to carry that hope back up into the chilly reality of the Downtown Eastside. Still, proceeds from the show, which has run for nine Yuletide seasons, support the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival—an event that partners with 50-plus of the neighbourhood’s organizations.

      Last Christmas I watched a very traditional rendering of A Christmas Carol, and while it was superior in stagecraft, it felt largely irrelevant to contemporary life. Bah Humbug! may be too much on the nose, but its intrigue lies in the opinions and ideas it has about our city in 2018.