You may not be familiar with Bob Christianson, but you would definitely recognize the upbeat music the composer created for the celebrated HBO series “Sex in the City.” His latest work, a revamped “hybrid” production of “A Christmas Carol,” just garnered him another Emmy nomination.
Christianson speaks with Living Out Loud about the struggles of this production (which nearly didn’t happen), his Emmy nomination and the power of one’s will.
“We went straight back to the original story and tried to make it an even scarier ‘ghost story.’ We also used dialogue and storyline from the original novella that we haven’t seen used anywhere else,” he shares. “‘A Christmas Carol – The Concert’ is definitely not a musical, and it’s more than just a straight orchestral concert. It’s a hybrid of both of them with a lot of film-scoring type of music thrown in. It’s what I call a ‘Dramatic Concert.’”
When it comes to trials and tribulations, this Emmy-nominated production has had more than its share. The biggest challenge was finding financial backing for such a huge production. While other works have funding from major sponsors, this operation only had only its collaborators. At times it seemed as though it wasn’t going to happen.
“Financially, it was just me and my wife, Jean Blair [who also co-executive produced], doing all the heavy lifting,” he says.
Coordinating a film while directing a cast of over 80 people isn’t an easy task, it can lead to disagreements and disasters. That was another major worry for Christianson and his writing partner, Alisa Hauser.
“Seriously, the hardest part was not writing the piece. That was actually the part that both Alisa and I had the most fun with. The hardest part was getting the show ready to be filmed on stage with a 52-piece orchestra, a 30-piece choir, five lead singers and a rock/pop rhythm section,” admits Christianson. “The whole ensemble only had one chance to ‘run the piece down’ before we filmed it in front of a live audience, and even that run-through was filmed! The talent level of everyone on stage and back stage was totally off the charts. We really lucked out”.
The production’s song “No Trouble,” gained Christianson an Emmy nomination. Though he has been previously nominated, this nomination felt as big as the first.
“It’s an unbelievable honor just to be in the same room with some of my musical heroes. It’s a dream come true. I feel totally gob smacked,” he gushes.
“No Trouble” was obviously inspired by Charles Dickens’ words, but the song takes you through the depths of humanity where grief somehow intertwines with hope. The track starts at the part of the story where Tiny Tim has just died, and Bob Cratchit is upstairs in Tiny Tim’s bedroom staring at his crutch, feeling totally lost. Get ready to cry!
“I feel that it’s one of those ‘magic songs’ that tends to bypass the brain and go directly to the heart. After hearing the song literally hundreds of times, I still can’t make it through without sobbing,” he confesses. “Both at the premier of the piece [December 2011 with the Baltimore Symphony] and the WTTW-PBS taping, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Scott [Coulter as Bob Cratchit] finished the song.”
So what exactly does Christianson mean when he says it’s not a Broadway musical or a straight-out concert?
“When you have a Broadway musical version of this story, there are usually lots of sets, lighting cues, big casts and everything else that makes a musical a musical. The orchestra is usually in the pit. In our version, the orchestra is not there to just support the actors. They are one of the characters in the play,” explains the composer. “At one point in the story, the concertmaster stands up and plays a really hard ‘Irish fiddle-type solo.’ In the second act, the lead cello player is the ‘voice’ of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.”
Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has become imbedded in our DNA because it’s a story about redemption. If someone as emotionally damaged as Scrooge can become a changed man for the better, so can we all.
For more information, visit achristmascaroltheconcert.com.