Lyric Theatre is taking a “Bah, humbug” approach to the upcoming holiday season. No, the company isn't scalping its tickets or turning off the heat in the theater. Instead, it's planning to offer an encore engagement of Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol.”
Directed by artistic director Michael Baron with a score assembled by Baron and Josh Schmidt (composer of off-Broadway's “The Adding Machine”), “A Christmas Carol” incorporates more than a dozen familiar carols that were recorded by a Celtic ensemble in Milwaukee.
“We wanted the carols to be from the period of Dickens but also have a more percussive sound which would propel the story forward in a more visceral, theatrical way than they are usually heard around the holidays,” Baron said.
Baron's version of Dickens' Victorian tale combines elements from the novel with those drawn from the numerous television and big-screen versions about the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and his ultimate transformation into a benevolent gentleman.
Portraying the story's protagonist is Jonathan Beck Reed, with Tom Orr as Bob Cratchit, Susan Riley as Mrs. Cratchit, Matthew Alvin Brown as Fred and Young Scrooge, Jayme Petete as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Mandy Jiran as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
“When I was a young actor playing older roles, I had to work harder to find experiences in my life that would relate to the character I was playing,” Reed said. “Today, I'm older, I've lived more and hopefully I am wiser. At 53, I can understand a character like Scrooge far better than I did at 25.
“The tough thing about playing Scrooge is that he spends so much time observing others. You have to be totally invested every single second while you're on stage and let those scenes impact you. It's as if you're doing Hamlet's soliloquy. Everything is being done internally so your evolution is happening silently.”
Reed has earned a well-deserved reputation for bringing characters vividly to life. Scripts vary according to how much detail the author goes into when sketching his characters. But an accomplished actor often finds additional clues in what other characters say about his character.
“I like to start with discovering how Scrooge became the man he is,” Reed said. “He was a young boy who had great potential, he dearly loved his sister but his father resented him because Scrooge's mother died in childbirth. His father eventually sent him off to a boarding school.
“You can deconstruct those experiences as he goes through his life. When the first ghost shows him his past, he becomes emotional about a place where he felt embraced and loved. He also sees how money destroyed his relationship with Belle and regretted not having handled things differently. If you don't know what his life was like before the play starts, nothing in the play can affect him.”
People are drawn to theater for countless reasons, but one of the most compelling byproducts is the ability to recognize ourselves in the characters that we see on stage. By doing so, a strong emotional bond between cast and audience is created.
“I think on some level, we all see ourselves in Scrooge,” Reed suggested. “You don't return that phone call you should or you pass by the Salvation Army guy ringing the bell. We can relate to not being as charitable or as kind as we should be.
“But because we see Scrooge as a person who can be better, we want to be better people ourselves. It's an important story to tell. Christmas is a time of tradition and it inspires us to be our best.”