Tag Archives: christmas carol

‘12 Days’ of Christmas now costs $34,363

The slow recovery of the U.S. economy is continuing to keep the cost of Christmas — or at least the gifts listed in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” — from spiraling out of control.

The price of two turtle doves jumped from $290 to $375 this year, but nine of the other 12 gifts listed in the carol stayed the same price or became cheaper, including a partridge in a pear tree, according to the 33rd annual PNC Wealth Management Christmas Price Index released Thursday.

As a result, the overall cost of the gifts listed in the song increased 0.7 percent to $34,363, up $233 from last year’s total of $34,131.

PNC Financial Services Group releases the price index each year as a whimsical way of tracking inflation.

Besides the turtle doves, only the cost of 11 pipers piping and 12 drummers drumming _ both up 2.8 percent _ increased.

Thomas Melcher, chief Investment officers for PNC Asset Management Group, said the increasing wages of drummers and pipers could signal a march toward higher wages for a broader range of workers in 2017. He said he wouldn’t be surprised to see increases coming for the eight maids-a-milking, nine ladies dancing and 10 lords-a-leaping.

“There are some underlying inflationary pressures that seem to be building,” Melcher said.

The price of five gold rings, as tracked by PNC, hasn’t gone up in three years, even though the price of gold as a commodity has.

“At a certain point, the end product should begin to reflect the price appreciation of the commodity,” Melcher said.

PNC calculates the prices from sources including retailers, bird hatcheries and two Philadelphia dance groups, the Pennsylvania Ballet and Philadanco.

The cost of buying the same gifts online is $44,603 this year, up 2.2 percent from $43,627 last year. But Melcher cautioned that’s largely because it costs more to transport animals and performers — 10 lords-a-leaping cost $5,509 in-person, but $13,373 online because of transportation costs — than the cost of the items themselves.

“In most instances, it’s cheaper to shop online,” Melcher said. “I’ve never personally shipped a swan, but I imagine it’s not the cheapest endeavor in the world.”

A buyer who purchased all the gifts each time they are mentioned in the song would spend $156,507, up $1,100 from last year.

The full set of prices for purchasing the gifts from a bricks-and-mortar business, not online, is:

• Partridge, $20; last year: $25

• Pear tree, $190; last year: same

• Two turtle doves, $375; last year: $290

• Three French hens, $182; last year: same

• Four calling birds (canaries), $600; last year: same

• Five gold rings, $750; last year: same

• Six geese-a-laying, $360; last year: same

• Seven swans a-swimming, $13,125; last year: same

• Eight maids a-milking, $58; last year: same

• Nine ladies dancing (per performance), $7,553; last year: same

• 10 lords a-leaping (per performance), $5,509; last year: same

• 11 pipers piping (per performance), $2,708; last year: $2,635

• 12 drummers drumming (per performance), $2,934; last year: $2,855

Jonathan Smoots finally gets Scrooged at the Rep

It’s common for Milwaukee Rep actors to shuffle through various roles in the company’s annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but Jonathan Smoots has taken it to a new level.

Smoots has been the gravedigger, a chorus director and a philanthropic solicitor. He’s portrayed Mr. Fezziwig, Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas past and present. 

About the only roles he’s missed, he says, are Bob Cratchit, nephew Fred and Old Joe, the pawnbroker of Christmas Future. And Scrooge.

But that’s about to change. After participating in 15 productions of A Christmas Carol and understudying the role for a decade, Smoots will finally don the humbug’s nightshirt this year.

Smoots has technically played “a” Scrooge before, taking on the role of Young Scrooge in 1981, in both his first Rep Christmas Carol and his first Rep show. At the time, the role was a one-off, with Smoots playing roles in a handful of other productions that season. Then he made only occasional appearances with the company until 1998, when yet another Christmas Carol brought him back to the Rep. He’s been in Carol almost every season since, drawing closer and closer to the role he’s desired for years.

“I love the story so much,” Smoots says. “I love the character. There are not many characters where you can bring all your dramatic abilities to playing the role honestly, and then in the last fifth of the play you get to use all your comedy skills.”

He hoped to get the role during the 2012 season, when Aaron Posner was announced as the new director for the production. He even reached out to Posner directly to pitch himself as Scrooge. But being new to the Rep, Posner instead decided to work with someone he already knew: Christopher Donahue, who played Scrooge that year and in 2013. 

But Smoots got another opportunity this year when Donahue said he wasn’t returning for a third year as Scrooge. “He told me, ‘I’m not one of those actors who can repeat a role year after year after year. It’s just not in me,’” Smoots says. He acted fast, reaching out to Posner and artistic director Mark Clements about the role the same day, even before Donahue had a chance to inform them himself. The Rep didn’t make the decision on the spot, but by this spring, Smoots knew he’d be the next actor to play Scrooge on the Pabst stage.

Then Smoots had to figure out what sort of Scrooge he is.

Every year, the Christmas Carol understudies perform an understudy run, and in 2013 Smoots says he found himself unusually unsettled, playing the character differently in every scene. “Over the years, it fell out of focus for me, because it seemed unlikely that I was ever going to go on,” he says. “I lost the drive and the urge to zero in on something specific and consistent, a real character.”

So this year Smoots hit the reset button. He went back to read the original Dickens novella — much of which is preserved in the language of the Rep’s adaptation, co-written by former artistic director Joseph Hanreddy and Edward Morgan — and worked on keeping his interpretation of Scrooge simple and honest.

Doing so has led him to new interpretations of Scrooge’s journey, especially in the play’s second half, when he reflects on the present world and the potential future that lies ahead. Smoots says his Scrooge realizes he lived his life poorly as early as the end of Act I, making the second act all about learning that he still has the ability to change his ways — and the lives of those around him. 

He’s worked with Posner on changes to the script that better support that thesis. For instance, it’s always bugged him that the play’s final scenes seem to give the impression that it’s simply seeing himself dead in the future that inspires Scrooge’s change in behavior.

Smoots explains: “We’re all going to die. That shouldn’t be a surprise. … It’s not his death that shocks him to say, ‘I can make a change; I will make a change.’ It’s Tiny Tim. It’s Bob Cratchit. It’s giving that little boy who came to his office a coin. It’s the full realization that life can be so much more, and so much fuller.”

The simplest example says it all. In prior productions, Smoots says, Scrooge wakes up after the spirits’ visitations shouting, “The time before me is my own! I’m alive! Alive!”

But back in the original Dickens, and now in the Rep’s production, the sentiment is more complex, and more moving: “The time before me is my own — to make amends.”

ON STAGE 

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of A Christmas Carol runs Dec. 2–24, at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St. Tickets range from $25 to $85 (subject to change) and can be purchased at 414-224-9490 or milwaukeerep.com.

Moments of Christmas delirium

Despite my hard-earned rep as an atheistic radical commie lesbian, I turn into a hopeless ball of schmaltz when the holiday season begins. Every year, I succumb to the sentimentality of Christmas movies. 

I used to start crying just 10 minutes into It’s a Wonderful Life, when young George gets his ears boxed by the druggist, Mr. Gower. Last year, it only took 3 minutes, when George’s little brother Harry crashes through the ice.

Many people have tired of it because of its overexposure, but It’s a Wonderful Life is a perfectly written and executed film. Jimmy Stewart is outstanding but every performer, including bit players, is stellar. The scenes crackle with intensity and lyricism: George’s heart-to-heart talk with his dad; his confrontations with old Potter; his rousing plea to Bedford Falls to stick together against the evil banker. 

Lately, my favorite scene is the “Buffalo Gals” stroll between George and Mary after their plunge in the pool. The flirtatious banter between Stewart and Donna Reed, punctuated by the neighbor yelling, “Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?” is priceless.

The dialogue in White Christmas is stilted and there’s that cringe-inducing minstrel number. But when the veterans sing “We’ll Follow the Old Man” and the cast joins in “White Christmas,” I’m a goner. Besides that, Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen are cute as buttons, “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” rates among the best Hollywood dance numbers, and the “Sisters” drag routine by Danny and Bing Crosby (which Danny seems to be enjoying a little too much) is hilarious.

Other movies I enjoy at Christmas are less obvious. While You Were Sleeping, the wonderful romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock, takes place from Christmas to New Year’s in Chicago. There’s a lot of Midwestern holiday warmth, charming performances and many funny lines. My fave is Granny announcing out loud at Christmas Mass: “I liked Mass better in Latin. It’s nicer when you don’t know what they’re saying.”

Another heartwarmer is Little Women with Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon. There are a number of New England winter scenes that include caroling and gathering around the hearth. The interior scenes capture the warmth and love that pervade the March home. A great story, thoughtful performances and a classy score by Thomas Newman make it a winner. But prepare yourself: Beth still dies. Cue the crying jag.

Another unexpected holiday treat is Millions, a small gem by Danny Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire. In Millions, 7-year-old Damian, who has just lost his mum and who talks with saints, comes upon a satchel containing millions of British pound notes. The sweet boy decides to give it all to the poor, leading to comical misadventures and a scary showdown with the criminals who want their loot back.

Most of the action takes place over Christmas and New Year’s. In one magical scene, Damian flees from the bad guys by following a bright star. He’s accompanied by the big papier-mâché donkey from his school’s Christmas play. In the end, Damian meets his dead mum for a final chat and hug before he and she can let each other go.

The best Christmas stories, like Dickens’ template A Christmas Carol, are dark as well as light. There’s nothing like a good cry, but here’s hoping that you find your way to the light this holiday season.