TO COMPARE Howard Burnham’s fine online performance as Ebenezer Scrooge last weekend with Gary Bolen’s equally excellent version a week ago provided a kind of dramatic counterpoint.
Burnham’s performing Dickens won him major stage fame as well as some much needed cash after a financially disappointing tour of the United States. We are aware of his dramatic flare as a Victorian theater attraction. Where Bolen emphasizes the warmth and Christmas cheer of the popular tale, it’s clear that Burnham’s Dickens never wants us to forget we are hearing a Victorian ghost story. Without losing the laughs it gets the full melodramatic treatment. His marvelous gift of many voices and many dialects keeps the thrills—and the laughs—going at full tilt.
Where Bolen is acting on stage with props and furniture, Burnham depends entirely on his expressive face and his superb powers as a storyteller. It’s an exciting hour of time-travel back to a man of both literature and theater giving his audience its money’s worth of spooky thrills and bitingly sharp eccentric characterizations.
In a chat session after Saturday’s performance Burnham held out the intriguing possibility that next year he may do a version of the earlier Christmas tale that Dickens later adapted and expanded into A Christmas Carol for the sake of his box office appeal and his pocketbook.