By Karen Isaacs
How do you take over a part that for 20 years has been play almost exclusively by one actor? Michael Preston is facing that dilemma as the new Scrooge in the Hartford Stage production of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas, which runs through Sunday, Dec. 30.
Preston admitted that Bill Raymond, the former Scrooge who retired from the role last year, had been a hero of his. “It was great to work with him,” Preston said, referring to playing Mr. Marvel for several years in the production. But he admits it is a “little strange” taking over the part.
“I see Scrooge as a man who has turned away from any comfort and shut himself off,” Preston said. “It’s about loss and disappointment, which are human traits.”
“It’s the journey he (Scrooge) takes to reach a point of celebrating life and touching people,” he added. “At any moment one of the ghosts could send him down.”
For both Preston and director Rachel Alderman, this adaptation by Michael Wilson (former Artistic Director at Hartford Stage) gets to the heart of the story and focuses on the dynamic relationships.
“Everyone is trying to get him (Scrooge) to change and reaching out to him,” Alderman said. This adaptation is so reflective of the heart and warmth of Michael Wilson; it just infuses the entire story, she added.
Preston views the role as “tremendously entertaining” which requires “great clowning,” “You have to prepare the audience for the ending; Scrooge is has very human traits that are unpleasant, but there is a small spark within him, that the ghosts and his associates manage to fan,” Preston said. “You have to find the moment when he changes.”
One of Alderman’s responsibilities is adapting the staging to the new cast members – not only are there three new performers in major roles, but three others are switching roles. Plus there are the students from Hartt School of the University of Hartford which comprise the ensemble and the numerous children in the cast.
In the space of just six weeks, the cast will perform the show almost 50 times – 34 regular performances and 14 school group performances. For those, Buzz Roddy plays Scrooge.
“The audiences are so enthusiastic that energizes the cast,” Alderman said. “For some it is an annual event, some have never seen live theater, and each year there are grandparents bringing their grandchildren to the show.” The cast, she says, feels that and responds to it.
It’s the audience as well as the students and children who help keep the whole show renewed and alive, she said.
Once again, a sensory-friendly performance will be available at reduced prices on Saturday, Dec. 2. This is geared for families with autism or other sensory sensitivities. A variety of accommodations to the production are made. For information on this, contact hartfordstage.org/sensory-friendly.
Local craftspeople will fill the lobby of the theater on “Market Days” that begin Sunday, Dec. 3 and continue the following two weekends. It’s been a popular event for audience members who can shop the unique offerings and local businesses.
For tickets or information, visit Hartford Stage.