He's a Victorian Grinch, Scrooge is.
But he melts before our very eyes into a puddle of decency.
A Christmas Carol, starring the eventual victory of heart over pocketbook, opens Dec. 7 at the Valentine Theatre in downtown Toledo and runs through Dec. 17. It is the 18th annual production.
“What I'm focusing on this year is the whole story of redemption,” said Brian Bethune, the show's director.
He considered making big changes in the show, which he's directing for the first time.
“I read through about 40 different versions of A Christmas Carol, but there were a lot of things that Toledo audiences like,” said Dr. Bethune, who is also artistic director of the Toledo Repertoire Theatre.
But he found few scripts that called for a large cast or for the singing of Christmas carols, so he went back to the unaccredited script the Rep has long relied on.
However, Dr. Bethune colored the tale with more of the gloom he believes author Charles Dickens intended in the 1843 book.
“When I read the script and then read the story by Dickens, I see and hear the story of the Industrial Age.”
Scrooge, a money-lender, symbolized the era of machines and factories, a movement considered by many at the time to be inhumane. Thousands of people had moved into cities from the countryside and had taken menial and factory jobs, working long hours in poor conditions and living in slums.
Scrooge's primary crime is his lack of generosity. As Marley, Scrooge's late partner, tells him, “Your business is mankind.”
The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the problem when the spirit parts the folds of his robes to reveal a pair of ghastly marionettes representing ignorance and want.
This year's Ebenezer Scrooge, played for the 11th season by Jim Rudes, is more despicable than usual.
“I wanted to start with a harder, meaner Scrooge so the redemption and transformation is that much more profound,” said Dr. Bethune.
The all-volunteer cast of 15 to 20 adults and nearly 100 children is smaller than last year's total of 180, which seemed unmanageable, he said. “My take is, everybody needs to be there for a purpose. I find it's much easier to work with a smaller cast and it's more enjoyable for the cast to get more specific attention,” he said.
Divided into three groups, the children will take turns doing six of the 18 shows.
Ten shows are for the general public and eight shortened shows on weekdays are for school children. That's a hefty increase from five years ago, when there were four performances at the 1,700-seat Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle. The Valentine has 900 seats. School performances began in 1997 with one full show.
As its largest money-maker, the holiday production has created transformation of the financial sort for the Rep. Last year, the Valentine Theatre was a brand new novelty when A Christmas Carol opened there. The show was sold out three weeks before it opened and the 14,000 tickets brought in more than $250,000, said Dr. Bethune.
That allowed the Rep to pay off $40,000 in long-term debt and return to black ink. The funds also helped the Rep with its planned expansion. “It certainly put us in a better financial position faster than we thought,” he said.
But production costs of about $30,000, including theater rental and incidentals such as extra lighting and sound, are higher, he said.
So far, only a few of the school programs are sold out, but tickets are selling better than they did two years ago, the last time A Christmas Carol played at the Peristyle.
Dr. Bethune plays Scrooge's nephew, Fred, and Bob Cratchit is portrayed by Brady Sikorski, who played the lead in Just Around the Bend, the historical musical staged in Sylvania last summer.
“A Christmas Carol” opens Dec. 7 and runs through Dec. 17. Curtain is at 8 p.m. for shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and at 2:30 and 7 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $25-$43. Discounts for students, seniors, and groups. Tickets for children 13 and younger are reduced by $10. Call 243-9277.
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