Jim Byrnes, Steve Maddocks

The 170th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale about a mean-spirited, old miser is played out in the Downtown Eastside with a contemporary, local flavour. Bah! Humbug!, an annual tradition co-presented by SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs and Vancouver Moving Theatre, returns for its fourth year, with a few new variations.

Originally conceived as a benefit to support community arts through the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, the cast is an amalgamation of professional and community performers, working in partnership. SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts serves as the quintessential locale for this concept, as the revitalized Woodwards building was a unique urban project that sought to bring together the disparate rich and poor communities of Vancouver.

This year’s adaptation is presented as a reading with live music, a guest choir from the Saint James Music Academy plus a nightly free-range turkey draw. Arrive a bit early so you can peruse the cast bios and join in the audience “warm up” sing-along.

Jim Byrnes in Bah! Humbug

Also different this year, Juno award-winning actor Jim Byrnes dons the miser’s coat as Ebenezer Scrooge and gives his own stamp to the character. Ebenezer loves sushi! Byrnes even adds his acoustic blues original “12 Questions” to the mix of over 20 musical arrangements, featuring contemporary pieces, as well as seasonal favourites and a traditional Coast Salish prayer song.

Tom Pickett, Jim Byrnes, Steve Maddock, Adams Farnsworth
[Tom Pickett, Jim Byrnes; background: Steve Maddock, Adams Farnsworth]

Other local stars of the performance are First Nations actor Margot Kane as the narrator, gospel and blues singer/actor Tom Pickett as Bob Cratchit, musician and actor Steve Maddock as Jacob Marley, and First Nations comedian Sam Bob Tulkweemult’ as the Spirit of Christmas Present. Neil Weisensel arranges the musical scores, while seasoned director Max Reimer oversees the ensemble of professional and DTES community actors, including veterans Stephen Lytton and Mike Richter.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one definition of the word ‘humbug’ is “someone or something that is not honest or true”. How fitting for Ebenezer Scrooge as he is revealed to be the humbug when he finally embraces Christmas. A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843, but its themes still remain relevant. “Dickens’ advocacy for social justice, ethical transformation and generosity of spirit is just as urgently needed today,” says Savannah Walling, co-artistic director of Vancouver Moving Theatre.

Jim Byrnes in Bah! Humbug

Speckled with modern references to the Downtown Eastside, audiences will recognize the patterns of avarice and loneliness, struggles of outward poverty versus inner abundance, and hope amidst despair. Plus, the actors couldn’t pass up a chance to poke fun at disgraced Toronto mayor, Rob Ford! The feel-good, community-oriented event received a standing ovation from the audience at its conclusion.

This family-friendly production runs nightly at 7:30 pm until December 14, with an additional 2 pm matinee on Saturday. The run time is slightly longer than the advertised 1 hour and 20 minutes, so be sure to adjust your transportation or parking accordingly.

Photos by Greg Ehlers.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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