'A Christmas Carol' at the Kodak: The ghost of 'Christmas Carol' past for producer-director Von Feldt?
Culture Monster's stalwart holiday readers have no doubt been following the Dickensian saga of the ongoing troubles of "A Christmas Carol," onstage through Jan. 4 at the Kodak Theatre. Jane Seymour left the cast, citing a bronchial infection. Gene Wilder, who was scheduled to portray Marley's Ghost as a hologram, also failed to materialize because producers decided the gimmick would be "ineffective in the production."
And audiences complained volubly to Culture Monster about glitches during preview performances on the evening of Dec. 22 and the afternoon of Dec. 23, offering such reserved comments as: "Wow! That was the worst show I've ever been to in my entire life." (Thank you for sharing, Neil.)
As it turns out, producer Kevin Von Feldt is haunted by his own ghost of "A Christmas Carol" past -- and it's no hologram: Back in October 1994, a Los Angeles city prosecutor said she would ask Los Angeles police detectives to investigate advertising claims for a Von Feldt-produced staging of "A Christmas Carol" at Pasadena's Raymond Theatre, planned for Nov. 15 to 20. Newspaper ads and promotional fliers for the Pasadena run of the touring show touted "narration by Sir John Gielgud" while omitting the fact that his voice would be recorded. Creditors, including Gielgud, also complained of unpaid bills.
The 1994 production finally opened several days late after planned opening weekend performances were called off because of technical problems; ticket holders for those performances were invited to see later shows. Times reviewer Don Shirley offered a lukewarm review: "Considering the producer's problems finding financing, the set was surprisingly lavish, though it wasn't always used sensibly.... Sound effects, lighting and lush (recorded) incidental music created a few mildly spooky moments."
Through a spokesman, Von Feldt said of the 1994 production: "The show opened and was reviewed without incident." The problems, he said, "obviously didn't impact the actual performances."
But in Von Feldt's own comment posted over the weekend in response to F. Kathleen Foley's review of the current show, Von Feldt was frank about the fact that this time around, the preview performances were not up to snuff. His letter blames the Ghost of Recession Present -- that is, the economy.
Last-minute financing problems, Von Feldt wrote, led to difficulty in scheduling enough rehearsal time at the Kodak. "With only five days of rehearsal and one day on the stage at the Kodak (Dec. 22, the day of the opening), we limped through the first performance Monday night, a remarkable achievement by the cast and crew," he wrote.
Von Feldt goes on to say the show is now much improved -- and invites preview ticket holders to see for themselves by offering those who attended the Dec. 22, 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 23, 3 p.m. previews to come see the show again, free of charge. The last performance is at 3 p.m. Sunday. And don't call the Kodak, a theater spokesman pleads -- all of those ticket holders will be contacted personally by the theater to make arrangements.
Photo: Christopher Lloyd plays Scrooge during a dress rehearsal of "A Christmas Carol" at the Kodak. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times