PORTLAND, Maine — This holiday season, Portland theater audiences will get a chance to take in a Charles Dickens Christmas story. But it’s not the traditional “A Christmas Carol.” Even though the great English novelist has been dead for more than 141 years, the city is in for a peek at what will be a new Dickens piece to most locals.
Behold, the musical “The Christmas Bride.”
“This was one of his very obscure Christmas stories,” said playwright Margit Ahlin. “There are five bazillion productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ every year. I said to myself, ‘You know, I’m really tired of Scrooge — let’s see what else Dickens wrote about Christmas.’”
Ahlin herself adapted Dickens’ lesser known “The Battle of Life” for stage, with the musical score courtesy of award-winning New York composer Noel Katz. When the curtain goes up on Thursday, Dec. 15, at Lucid Stage, it will mark the New England premiere of the production.
Perhaps appropriately, the show will not only introduce many Portlanders to a new Dickens tale, it will also introduce them to a new theatre troupe. It’s the inaugural production of Snowlion Repertory Co., which Ahlin co-founded with Al D’Andrea after the couple spent the previous three decades founding and grooming theater groups in New York City and Los Angeles.
“This is actually the first musical I ever wrote,” Ahlin said of “The Christmas Bride.” “It’s really heartwarming and it was always popular with audiences where it’s been done. It just felt like the right calling card for people to get to know us and our company.”
Some of the faces audiences will see on stage for the show’s weeklong run may be familiar. Marissa Sheltra, Elizabeth Lardie and Brian McAloon are among the Maine actors in the production, and the highest profile out-of-towner — longtime New York actor David Arthur Bachrach — is actually a Brunswick native returning to his home state for the holiday show.
Bachrach was also in the original production of “The Christmas Bride” 20 years ago when Ahlin first unveiled it in the Big Apple, so his participation in the Portland rendition is a homecoming that’s both geographical and professional.
“We thought that would be fun for him to come back home to Maine and be in this show,” said Ahlin.
“The Christmas Bride” tells the story of two tangled holiday romances. A young woman, Marion Jeddler, falls for a rough-and-tumble gambler despite facing an arranged marriage to another man. That other man, it turns out, is grappling with feelings for Marion’s older sister, Grace.
No time-traveling ghosts pop up to sort this one out, but Ahlin said Dickens aficionados will be comforted by the colorful 19th century characters, including curmudgeonly ne’er-do-wells who will make fans of the author feel right at home in the scenes.
“We have some wonderful villains and the whole Victorian London sequence,” Ahlin said. “It will feel extremely familiar to people who love Dickens, and yet it is an extremely modern tale about a woman standing up for herself.”
Lardie, of Bath, plays the serene Grace Jeddler. She called the new Dickens role refreshing — especially after what she described as a run of previous gigs in which she played “disheveled 20-somethings, bad girls and ditzes.”
She also said Dickens’ Christmas magic can rub off on the actors as easily as it can on the audience.
“I’m actually the level-headed one, who is easy going and grounded, in this play,” Lardie said. “Especially because of my type casting as of late, this is very much a change of pace. It feels nice to play this kind of character this time of year, because she’s very open-armed. It’s a nice feeling and habit to be in for the month of December. It’s going to be great when I am more Grace than me.”
“The Christmas Bride” will be performed at Lucid Stage, 29 Baxter Boulevard. The show opens 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, and plays 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17; 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18; 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20; and 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21. The 2 p.m. Dec. 17 matinee is an ASL-interpreted performance. Tickets, which can be ordered by calling 899-3993 or visiting lucidstage.com, are $17 for adults and $15 for students and seniors.
“It’s just great fun seeing a Dickens you’ve never seen before,” Ahlin said.