Nov. 14--Joe Toon's favorite holiday film is "A Christmas Carol." He figures he watches three or four versions a year, but he was nervous about directing Stockton Civic Theatre's production of the musical version of the classic, which opens Friday.
"I was so frightened, terrified," Toon said. "When Jim (Coleman) offered it to me, I went home and read the script. It said, 'You have to do this.' I thought, 'Can I do this? Is it even possible?' "
Toon acted on faith, put together a team he trusts -- including stage manager Putsy Lew Hong, assistant director Elaine Saculla, and choreographer Jennifer Hastings -- and "cast the perfect cast."
The result, he said, is "Christmas magic."
"'A Christmas Carol is nothing but magic," Toon said. "It's a big-time magic show. You have to have these tricks. If you don't have them, you have a small stage production that might fall flat."
SCT has proven its ability to create some magic, whether with "Cinderella" or last summer's children's version of "The Wizard of Oz."
It has figured out the ethereal arrival of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Toon assures, as well as other special effects.
As for the cast, Toon turned to performers he knew and those who could handle Alan Menken's score.
"It's beautiful and it's complex," said Scott Minor, who plays the adult Ebenezer Scrooge (with Brian Wick playing the young Scrooge and Benji Albala playing the child Scrooge). "I admit I had some difficulty getting some of the timing. The notes of the songs are just beautiful, but I actually got the Kelsey Grammer (television soundtrack) to get a feel for the entrances and the rhythms. There are songs that require me to sing, or speak sing, in a very quick way with a lot of enunciation. Those things can be difficult. They have a lot of internal rhythm. I have to be careful."
Eddie Hargreaves, who plays Scrooge's counterpoint, employee Bob Cratchit, mastered Menken's music as the lead in "Little Shop of Horrors" and is a fan of his music.
"It makes it really different from the more traditional staging of 'A Christmas Carol,' " Hargreaves said. "It's about 90 percent music."
Still, the production closely follows the Charles Dickens novella written in 1843 about a miserly man who comes to embrace the spirit of Christmas after a haunting journey through his past, present and future.
Toon, who'd never read the original text until the last year, always has loved the story.
"It's the fact I think we all are or know someone who is Scroogelike at some point," Toon said. "We all have that I'm-going-to-be-stingy-miserly-angry thing, but then Christmas comes and all of a sudden things aren't so bad. You want to get a present for so and so or do something for someone. Christmas has the power over you to change you overnight."
Minor's favorite Christmas classic is "It's A Wonderful Life," but he said playing Scrooge can be an actor's dream.
"Depending on how it's written," said Minor, who last performed for SCT in the comedy, "The Ritz." "I like the way this play handles Scrooge. It's well worn territory. We know Scrooge. He's a very iconic character. I love how this show fleshes out a lot of emotional moments for him. I'm finding it a fun challenge to be able to show some of these different emotions when he's viewing the past and having some regret, and viewing some joyful memories, some difficult memories. As he goes from emotional state to emotional state, all of this has to build in him toward a final convergence. I'm finding a really neat challenge to say, 'Here's a moment I need to be thoughtful.' "
That approach is necessary because beyond the music and special effects, this production of "A Christmas Carol" is still Dickens' story of redemption.
"Human compassion is really what this story is about," Hargreaves said. "The capacity we have for kindness is so necessary. Christmas time is one of those times we try to bring it out more than other times of the year. It's a good excuse to remind people about that. 'What are you doing in life? Are you making peoples' lives better in any way with your actions?' This story emphasizes how important it is to think of other people."
Performing with Tiny Tim "just sort of breaks your heart a little bit," Hargreaves said. "You know it's not real. None of it is real, but it's very powerful. To see Tiny Tim singing his song, or Scrooge singing his songs, I'm not seeing those actors anymore. I'm seeing Tiny Tim and Scrooge. I think it's very moving."
As it has since it was first written, "A Christmas Carol" has a lasting impact.
"God Bless us, everyone," is Dickens' famous last line, but Minor points to another in the musical just as powerful.
"I'm drawn to the part of the show where we reflect on the Cratchits, how poor they are but how happy they are," Minor said. "There's a line I sing when I'm finally realizing how the Cratchits live, talking about Tiny Tim: 'Even this child who has nothing has so much to share.'
"I guess if there's one sentence from one song that really touches me and I hope touches other people, it's that."
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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