Thursday, November 8, 2012

32 Years of "A Christmas Carol" and They Keep Coming Back

As A Christmas Carol approaches its 33rd season, Orange County’s favorite (and longest-running) holiday show has delighted audiences just over 1,000 times. That comes to approximately 455,500 seats filled with holiday theatre-goers, many of them new to the experience, but others so familiar with the show that they can recite the dialogue.

Why do they return year after year, bringing their growing families again and again—through generations?

Director John-David Keller believes he knows the answer: Because it stays the same. And because it changes. Let J.D. explain.

“It’s comforting,” he says, “to settle into your seat as the curtain rises on A Christmas Carol, knowing that in just a few moments Hal Landon, Jr. will stride across the stage as Ebenezer Scrooge, and that in the end he’ll turn a somersault, come up with top hat in place, and be as loveable as he was once curmudgeonly. That will not change.”

Nor will the director—J.D. takes the helm this season for the 33rd time, with enthusiasm that never wanes. Familiar actors inhabit the lead roles, and most of the designers have been with A Christmas Carol season after season. According to J.D., “They are the thread that keeps the tradition going.”

Then there are 16 little changes—the children. “Each season, we like to give new young actors from our Theatre Conservatory a chance to audition for the eight roles in which they alternate (divided into Red Team and Green Team). The children bring an added joy to the set, with their enthusiasm and sense of wonder. That’s invigorating for us old characters.”

There also are four adult roles that change each season, cast from among graduates of SCR’s Theatre Conservatory Professional Intensive Program who are not yet members of Actors Equity Association (the union of professional actors and stage mangers). For many of these grads, A Christmas Carol is their first professional show.

Finally, there are the subtle changes in A Christmas Carol. Artistic Director Marc Masterson, Playwright Jerry Patch and J.D. met earlier this season to go through each scene in the script, making small revisions to the dialogue and action—changes that might not be noticed by the audience, but that give extra dimension to the characters.

This year, J.D. has one more change. “I’m keeping it a secret,” he says slyly, “but here’s a hint: it has something to do with Marley (Scrooge’s long-dead partner).” More than that, J.D. won’t reveal.

But we’re happy to reveal fun facts for fans of A Christmas Carol:

1996 was the last time all the founding members appeared in A Christmas Carol together.  They are, from left to right, Don Took, Ron Boussom, Art Koustik, Richard Doyle, Hal Landon Jr., John-David Keller, John Ellington and Martha McFarland.
  • SCR Founding Artists have appeared for a total of 142 seasons: Hal Landon Jr. – 32, Art Koustik – 31, Richard Doyle – 28, Don Took – 22, Martha McFarland – 21, Ron Boussom – 8. Hal, Richard and Art will all be back this season.
  • The original set was designed by Cliff Faulkner with costumes by Richard Odle. The set has evolved over time, with the current design by Tom Buderwitz. Donna and Tom Ruzika have designed the lighting every season.
  • Hal has missed only three shows. In 1997 he was cast in a pivotal role in Sidney Bechet Killed a Man, which didn’t close until Sunday, November 30. Hal stepped back into the role of Scrooge on December 2, missing one matinee and two evening previews. J.D. went on for him, and those who were there say he did a bang-up job. (No one demanded a refund!).
Hal Landon Jr as Scrooge and Richard Doyle as The Spirit of Christmas Past.
  • Speaking of missing things, Hal missed one “hat trick.” He stopped the show long enough to try again—and succeed.
  • Hal’s battle scars include two broken toes—the little toe on his left foot seven years ago when, in stocking feet, he ran into furniture backstage, the little toe on his right foot the next year, also in stocking feet, when he ran into the foot of his own (Scrooge’s) bed. A more cheerful Hal fact: his youngest daughter, Caroline, joined the cast in 1996-97 as Young Girl About Town.
  • Richard Doyle has played The Spirit of Christmas Past too many times to count. He guesses 20. At one time or another, he also has played Solicitor, Joe, Mr. Fezziwig and Scrooge’s nephew Fred.
  • Richard never portrayed Bob Cratchit. But he married one of Bob’s wives (the actress Jennifer Parsons, who has played Mrs. Cratchit since 2004).  By the way, Richard’s daughter, Sarah, joined her father onstage in 1996 as Martha Cratchit.
  • Don Took had a near-striptease exit once during his 22 years as the Ghost of Jacob Marley. When the stage crew was wheeling him out the window (for his ghostly disappearance) his rotting shroud caught on the window latch, and it was a standoff to see which would give way first: Odle’s set or Faulkner’s costume. The crew rightly chose to save the set, leaving Don gyrating and screaming on the platform while his costume peeled away from his arm and down his torso until they managed to rip the material loose and close the window—the longest exit in history, which Don still wishes he had seen.
Daniel Blinkoff and Bob Cratchit and Angeliki Katya Harris as Tiny Tim in the 2009 production.
  • Art Koustik missed only one season due to a motorcycle accident that left him incapacitated for the entire run and longer, but he bounced back and hasn’t missed a performance since. The young actors made the party scenes a real joy for Art during his years playing Fezziwig, and he continues to have a great time during the “scavenger” scene in which he and the other oldtimers adlib and then watch new cast members try to adjust. The scene is not Shakespeare, Art reminds them, but something near the other end of the acting spectrum!
  • Howard Shangraw appeared the first season as Young Ebenezer and as he grew older he appeared as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, a role he played through 2006. Other adult roles that have necessitated cast changes as the actors grew up are Fred’s wife, Sally, and Young Eb’s sweetheart, Belle. Hisa Takakuwa and Richard Soto played Sally and Young Eb for nearly a decade, and although they never got together on the stage, they’re married in real life.
  • Those Cratchits (Bob and “Mrs.”) are characters whom actors can play from their 20s into their 40s. Three actors have had very successful and long-running stints as Bob Cratchit—John Ellington from the first season until 1998, when he left the acting profession to become a minister; David Whalen took over for four years; and since then Bob has been played by SCR stalwart Daniel Blinkoff.
  • Among the children’s roles are the young Cratchits—Belinda, Peter, Martha and Tiny Tim, as well as Boy on the Street, known affectionately as “Turkey Boy” because he’s singled out by Scrooge to deliver the Christmas turkey—and the Christmas joy.
  • The children’s parents often spread cheer by supplying the cast with baked goods, a generous gesture that can add an extra ten pounds during the run!
  • From their “half hour” call until their parents take them home after the show, the kids are never alone backstage. SCR supplies a fun-loving staff member with the western-sounding title of “Wrangler” to serve as baby-sitter, friend, mentor and sounding board.  SCR Theatre Conservatory grad Nicole Gross, who once appeared as Martha Cratchit, is this year’s wrangler.
  • And, oh, yes, lest we forget—former SCR Dramaturg Jerry Patch, who adapted the Charles Dickens story for the stage, is now at New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club, but he’ll be back to have a look at 33.
RED TEAM (back row, left to right):  Graysen Airth, Sydney Lester, Taylor Serafin and Hartejas Dhindsa. Bottom row, left to right: Zacharias Harris, Ella Webb, Sebastian Naranjo and Louis Tonkovich
GREEN TEAM (back row, left to right): Blake Laszlo, Kiera Callahan, Bahaar Tadjbakhsh and Saul Richardson. Bottom row left to right: Lauren Dong, Hadley Belle Miller, Abby Matzke and Gage Larkin
As we update these facts throughout the run, we want to add stories about your own family’s experiences at A Christmas Carol. Just email us at

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