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PREVIEW: Theatre in the Park Preview: A Christmas Carol, Starring David Wood as Scrooge, Will Have New Scenery and New Choreography

by Robert W. McDowell

Theatre in the Park’s gala 30th-anniversary production of Ira David Wood III’s zany musical-comedy version of A Christmas Carol, which will run Dec. 8-15 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, will have magnificent new scenery by Mark Pirolo, exuberant new choreography by Matthew-Jason Willis, and the same old theatrical hocus-pocus and hilariously hokey vaudeville touches — not to mention a virtuoso performance by Wood as Ebenezer Scrooge.

That malicious old miser was immortalized by English novelist Charles Dickens (1812-70), in his perennially popular 1843 Christmas story, which chronicles Scrooge’s surprising redemption, after four ghostly visitations, one Christmas eve long ago.

"It’s hard to believe that this is the 30th year of A Christmas Carol in Raleigh,” admits TIP executive and artistic director David Wood. “It’s extremely gratifying to think that people still return to see our own adaptation year after year. It is, first of all, a great tribute to Mr. Charles Dickens and his incredible book. (I believe folks are surprised at how many lines in the show actually come directly from the book.)

"Secondly,” Wood says, “our musical version is a theatrical production that is truly ‘homegrown.’ All of it began right here! For 30 years, it has been the talent, dedication, and generosity of spirit provided by the volunteer cast that has truly worked the show’s special magic.”

He adds, “I’m quite proud of what the production has managed to accomplish in three decades. We’ve toured to France and England and have continued to attract huge crowds locally.”

That’s not bad for a holiday show by a local community theater (formerly Raleigh Children’s Theatre) that in 1974 specialized in outdoor productions of Shakespeare (Hamlet and Richard III) before occupying the old N.C. National Guard Armory in Pullen Park. This past Oct. 5, the Raleigh City Council voted unanimously to rechristen the armory as The Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre.

The Enfield, NC native, who was educated at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, says, “For 20 years, we have toured to Columbia, S.C. to help raise funds for the Babcock Center and their remarkable work for the mentally handicapped. The production has been something of a springboard in helping to launch more than a few successful show business careers. We’re also now listed as one of the ‘Top Twenty Events in the Southeast’ by the Southeast Tourism Society. The N&O has cited us as being ‘one of the most successful shows in North Carolina theater history.’ Most notably, the production has been seen by members of the Dickens family, and they’ve given it their enthusiastic endorsement. That has meant a great deal to all of us.”

At Christmastime 1974, David Wood was only 27 — tall, thin, matinee-idol handsome, and best known for his charismatic Hamlet — when he first donned a fright wig, a big beak of a false nose, and even bigger top hat, and slumped his shoulders and bowed his skinny legs to adopt a mincing gait to play that misanthropic old skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge. Wood expertly mixed musical theater with vintage vaudeville routines to create what one local critic once, long ago, called the biggest one-man show in Triangle theater history. Yet, over the last three decades, Wood has fleshed out the show’s supporting roles — to create more substantial comic foils for Scrooge to fulminate against — and he has built up the other performers’ musical numbers.

In addition to director/star David Wood, the 30th edition of A Christmas Carol will star David Moore as Bob Cratchit; David Henderson as Jacob Marley; Scotty Cherryholmes as the Lamplighter; Taylor Fleming, John Shearer, and Mike Raab as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future; Brett Wilson as Scrooge’s nephew Fred; and Bailey Griffin as Tiny Tim.

A Christmas Carol alumni include Bobby Bowman, Michael C. Hall, Terrence Mann, Frankie Muniz, Patrick Stogner, Evan Rachel Wood, and Eric Woodall.

"We use huge doses of humor in an attempt to make the show more accessible to young and old alike,” claims David Wood. “I’ve learned that you can ‘act’ a serious play, but with comedy ... well, it’s either funny or it isn’t. You simply can’t fake that. Humor is also a wonderful common denominator that enables our adaptation to amplify the intent of the original work. In this musical comedy approach, when those quiet and special moments are appropriately dealt with, they stand out and take on even deeper resonance. We have remained true to the story’s basic message while tweaking it a bit in the process. Whatever the combination, it’s worked — and happily so!”

For going on three generations now, A Christmas Carol has been a holiday tradition in TWO state capitals: Raleigh and Columbia, SC. (Indeed, many Triangle theatergoers still do not feel that the Christmas season is complete without a trip to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium to see what timely topical references David Wood has added to the latest edition of the show.) A Christmas Carol also became an enormous cash cow, whose annual proceeds funded less-bankable shows that Theatre in the Park might not otherwise have been able to produce.

David Wood will direct the show for the 30th time. (His sister, Hollywood production designer Carol Winstead Wood, has designed several hard scenery pieces for the production.) The rest of the 2004 production team includes choreographer Matthew-Jason Willis, who also plays Young Scrooge; musical director Diane Petteway; scenic designer Mark Pirolo and scenic technical director Stephen J. Larson; lighting designers Andrea Sumner and Thomas Mauney; costume supervisor Carson Mather and costume designer (Scrooge and Marley) Rita Riggs; prop supervisor Bryan Sodemann; and technical director Tim Ruffin.

Wood says, “The new sets and backdrops which will be seen in this year’s production are absolutely miraculous! They have added a professional sheen to the entire show that will make its impact even more indelible. Mark Pirolo’s contributions have made a tremendous impact on the quality of the overall presentation of the work.”

David Wood, who will follow his bravura performance as Scrooge with a wonderful one-man show dramatizing A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote Dec. 17-19 at Theatre in the Park, says, “Performing the role of Scrooge has become a lot like playing in a Super Bowl game! It takes an enormous amount of preparation and practice prior to the big day. Once you’re on the field, you give it everything you possibly can muster. I must admit that the rest during ‘half time’ is now greatly anticipated and appreciated. After all, I’m still doing a role that was initially created by and for a man in his twenties. With each passing year, it’s gratifying to know that I can still hit the mark.”

Wood adds, “It is such a pleasure to work with so many people who have chosen to come back to the show. Some of the children who were in the show years ago are performing this year as adults — with ‘Tiny Tims’ of their own. It’s a sincerely joyous feeling to know they want to renew their ties to the production while expanding our ‘ACC Family’ at the same time. We’re 30 years older and still as young at heart as ever!

"Initially,” Wood says, “nobody told us that what we were doing was impossible — so we just forged ahead and made it happen. When you consider the fact that this is ‘amateur’ production presented by a community theater relying upon the dedication and talent of its volunteer base, the accomplishments we’ve made in three decades are simply remarkable. On the other hand, it merely underscores the old adage: ‘When love and talent combine together, you can expect a miracle!’”

Wood says, “The laughter and tears you see onstage are quite real. After all, the holidays have a great deal to do with renewed feelings and emotions. This fact brings both audience and cast together in a veritable love feast. We know we can’t expect the audience to experience their own transformation unless and until those of us in the cast experience it first. We access our own feelings, build upon that foundation and send it out over the footlights. It’s a challenge to do any show that way, but our remarkable casts have never disappointed.

"Finally,” Wood says, “you can’t do it unless the audience is there to see it, share in the experience, and back you up. I will be forever grateful to the thousands of people who continue to support us each year. When your muscles ache and your throat is raw and you don’t know where the energy is going to come from to do one more show — the curtain goes up, you walk onstage — and feel that wave of pure love roll over your entire being — and the magic is suddenly there! E.G. Masters called it ‘a little bit of the ether reserved for God himself.’ There’s just no other way to describe it.

"When I die,” says David Wood, “my obit will probably simply say ‘He was Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.’ Considering all that declaration now infers, I’ll be quite content with the summarization.”

Note: There will be a special gala 30th-anniversary preview performance on Dec. 7th to launch Theatre in the Park’s Ambassador program. (Telephone 919/831-6936 for details.)

Theatre in the Park presents A Christmas Carol Wednesday-Friday, Dec. 8-10, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 11, 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 12, at 2 p.m.; and Monday-Wednesday, Dec. 13-15, at 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $11-$57. BTI Box Office: 919/831-6060. Note: There will be an ACC Cast Reunion celebration at the Dec. 12th matinee, followed by a party. (For details, ACC alumni should e-mail joe.farrell@ncmail.net or visit http://theatreinthepark.com/2004-05_productions/a_christmas_carol_04/acc_reunion.htm [inactive 9/05].) Theatre in the Park: http://theatreinthepark.com/2004-05_productions/a_christmas_carol_04/acc.htm [inactive 9/05]. University of Virginia (e-text of A Christmas Carol): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DicChri.html.


REVIEW: Theatre in the Park Review: 30th Edition of A Christmas Carol May Be the Biggest and Best Ever

by Robert W. McDowell

Theatre in the Park’s gala presentation of Ira David Wood III’s wickedly funny version of A Christmas Carol, which runs through Dec. 15th at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, is always dickens of a musical comedy, thanks to Wood’s outrageous, over-the-top antics as the bitter, bowlegged, misanthropic old miser whose improbable Christmas Eve conversion, after several supernatural visitations, makes the 1843 Christmas story by English novelist Charles Dickens (1812-70) perennial favorite of children of all ages.

The 30th edition of this Triangle institution, with new scenery by Mark Pirolo and new choreography by Matthew-Jason Willis, is probably the biggest and best production of A Christmas Carol ever. Pirolo’s magnificent, soaring sets provide a picture-postcard view of mid-19th century London, with the familiar dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral providing an especially picturesque background for street scenes.

Willis’ kinetic choreography is bigger, bolder, and more intricate and daring than ever before, with the Marlettes (Alexandra and Berklee Bowers, Christine Gardenshire, Catherine Gerdes, Maggie Mial, and Maria Vozzo), dressed like the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, tap-dancing up a storm all night; the Chimney Sweeps (Alexandra Bowers, Gerdes, Mial, Sunny Smith, Vozzo, and Willis) frolicking through several production numbers; and Young Scrooge (Willis) and his beloved Laura (Smith) tripping the light fantastic in a beautiful dreamlike ballet of young love interrupted.

The gorgeous new scenery and the dynamic dance routines combine with artful illumination by lighting designers Andrea Sumner and Thomas Mauney and a colorful array of Victorian costumes by costume supervisor Carson Mather and Scrooge and Marley costume designer Rita Riggs to make the 2004 edition of A Christmas Carol look like a million dollars.

It sounds like a million bucks, too, thanks to new and improved orchestrations and lyrics, which freshen the familiar score, and energetic instrumental accompaniment by musical director Diane Petteway and fellow musicians Dave Adams, Tom Bryan, Ed Butler, Lee Davis, Rodney Marsh, Bernie Petteway, and Hugh Robertson. This band really rocks!

David Wood gives his usual show-stopping performance as Scrooge; and David Henderson is a hoot as the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s former partner in greed, now condemned to wander through eternity wrapped in chains, because of his earthly transgressions against his fellow man. Scotty Cherryholmes is dapper and delightful as the Lamplighter, who doubles as the show’s narrator; and David Moore gives his best performance to date as Scrooge’s long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit.

Bailey Griffin is sweet as Tiny Tim, and Taylor Fleming is a treat as the small but spunky Ghost of Christmas Past. John Shearer is a veritable Jolly Green (and Red) Giant as the Ghost of Christmas Present; and Mike Raab is a scream as the Ghost of Christmas Future, played here as an undertaker/ventriloquist who plays straight man to the cheeky buzzard puppet on his right arm.

Susan Durham-Lozaw is quite good as the outspoken Mrs. Cratchit, indignant that her milquetoast husband would toast his stingy employer as the founder of their Christmas Eve feast; Joe Farrell, Alan Seales, and Brent Simpson are funny as three businessmen who make the mistake of trying to solicit old Ebenezer for a Christmas contribution; Frank Theriault is amusing as a businessman and the elf of the Ghost of Christmas Present; and Ruffin Hicks and Janis Colville are charming as Scrooge’s roly-poly former employers Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig.

If you have never seen Theatre in the Park’s uproarious rendition of A Christmas Carol, don’t miss your chance to enjoy this brilliant blend of musical theater and vaudeville. Even if you have seen the show 29 times, you will find a lot new and fresh, hilarious and poignant, about this stupendous 30th edition, which runs two hours and 50 minutes, including intermission.

Theatre in the Park presents A Christmas Carol Saturday, Dec. 11, 2 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 12, at 2 p.m.; and Monday-Wednesday, Dec. 13-15, at 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $11-$57. BTI Box Office: 919/831-6060. Note: There will be an ACC Cast Reunion celebration at the Dec. 12th matinee, followed by a party. (For details, ACC alumni should e-mail joe.farrell@ncmail.net or visit http://theatreinthepark.com/2004-05_productions/a_christmas_carol_04/acc_reunion.htm [inactive 9/05].) Theatre in the Park: http://theatreinthepark.com/2004-05_productions/a_christmas_carol_04/acc.htm [inactive 9/05]. University of Virginia (e-text of A Christmas Carol): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DicChri.html.

   
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