◆ Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” through Dec. 28, Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago. (312) 443-3800; GoodmanTheatre.org/Joy
◆ Drury Lane Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 21-Dec. 21, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. (630) 530-0111; www.ticketmaster.com or www.drurylane.com
◆ Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s “A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 29-Dec. 24, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights. (847) 577-2121; metropolisarts.com
◆ Citadel Theatre Company’s “A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 29-Dec. 29, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest. (847) 735-8554; www.citadeltheatre.org
◆ Theatre at the Center’s “A Christmas Carol: The Musical,” through Dec. 22, Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Ind. (219) 836-3255 or (800) 511-1552; TheatreAtTheCenter.com
You’d think that playing a bitter curmudgeon would put a person in a bad mood. But the five actors we spoke with who star as Ebenezer Scrooge in area productions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” seem surprisingly cheerful. Maybe knowing that their character finds redemption by the end of the show lifts their spirits.
Larry Yando is an old pro at the role, playing Goodman Theatre’s Scrooge for the sixth time. “I always forget, and then I’m brutally reminded every year when I come back, that this is tiring to me,” Yando said, laughing heartily.
There’s a good reason why he returns, though. “It is so fulfilling to an actor because you get to run the gamut and have this incredible journey, all within two hours, and take a whole bunch of people with you,” he explained. “And the journey is from a shut-up, angry, fearful person to an open, vulnerable, childlike man who lets the world in.”
Getting into character each performance is not a problem for Yando. “If you just mean what the words say, the character comes out of that,” he declared. And, because he has played the role so many times, “I sort of open the door and he comes crawling out,” Yando added.
Bradley Armacost is another Scrooge veteran, having played the role for three years with Provision Theater Company. This year, the “Spirits” are moving him at Drury Lane Theatre.
“It’s an honor to be doing this at this time of year,” Armacost said, as he drove to rehearsal. He joked that the biggest challenge of the role is getting from his home in Evanston to the theater in Oakbrook Terrace.
Although Drury Lane’s version runs just one hour, Armacost said the show doesn’t feel like an abridged version of “A Christmas Carol.”
Of course, that means Scrooge has to undergo a fairly quick transformation. “To take that journey from A to Z every single night is a delight,” Armacost said. “You can groan and moan about the heavy lifting you have to do emotionally to go from where you start to where you finish but it is such a lovely arc.”
Getting into character is easy for Armacost because of “the cynicism of our day. That idea of, ‘It’s never been worse than this,’ is what you walk in the door with,” he said, jokingly adding, “If I wasn’t talking to you, I’d probably have the news on. That would probably depress me and get me ready to say, ‘Bah, humbug!’”
First time Scrooge Jerry Miller will be making two transformations at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. When he finishes his role in “A Christmas Carol,” he’ll prepare to play Anne Frank’s father in “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the same theater.
Miller is very sympathetic toward his miserly character. “I think Scrooge has been hurt a lot in his life. His sister died giving birth to his nephew. His girlfriend left him. He’s all alone in boarding school,” the actor said. “I think a lot of his anger and resentment comes from pain that he hasn’t dealt with.”
Scrooge’s character isn’t totally bleak, though, Miller said, and the actor noted that this adaptation by Metropolis’ resident playwright Scott Woldman is lifted by director Micky York’s original musical arrangements, although Scrooge doesn’t sing until the finale.
To get into character, Miller laughingly reported, “I just think of my worse self.” As for his physical transformation, he’ll be shaving his beard and moustache and sporting mutton chops. “I’m going for the George C. Scott [Scrooge] look,” he said. “That may really get me into character because I won’t like the way I look so I can be sad.”
Second time Scrooge Matt Hallstein stars in the world premiere of M.E.H. Lewis’ adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” by Lake Forest’s Citadel Theatre Company. Playing the iconic character “is a lot of responsibility” the actor said.
To get into character, Hallstein said, “You have to go back in your life and look at areas where you felt excitement or pain. You have a situation that you’re in as a character and you draw from life experiences to make those feelings come out through you.”
As naturally cheerful as the other Scrooges we interviewed, Hallstein admitted, “The end of the play — where Scrooge comes alive — is probably a little easier for me than being the grouch.”
Out in Munster, Ind., Larry Adams is singing his way through the role of Scrooge in Theatre at the Center’s production of “A Christmas Carol: The Musical,” the Alan Menken (music), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics and book) and Mike Ockrent (book) version of the classic tale.
This is Adams’ first turn as Scrooge but his haunting presence as the Ghost of Christmas Present was felt in two other productions of “A Christmas Carol.”
“It’s an interesting character. The perception is that he’s this mean, crusty old guy,” Adams said. “You have to realize what made him that way in the first place. There is a sympathetic part there to his character — he lost his mother, he lost his father to prison, he lost his sister in childbirth, he lost his business partner. He lost the love of his life because he was obsessed with money. He’s sort of a tortured soul.”
Adams noted that because this is a musical, “When there’s nothing more to say, you start to sing, and that tightens the emotional level of a particular moment.”
Playing Scrooge doesn’t darken the holidays for these actors, although it does limit the time they have to enjoy the festivities.
“It doesn’t make me feel ‘bah-humbuggy’ playing Scrooge,” Goodman’s Yando said. “But the actual role is exhausting so I don’t have much energy to celebrate.”
Citadel’s Hallstein found a way to celebrate the holidays that is the antithesis of a Scrooge. He organized a field trip for 14 fellow actors to join him in packing food for Feed My Starving Children, a nonprofit organization that ships food to malnourished children in 70 countries.
Taking this role will affect the way Theatre at the Center’s Adams feels about the holidays. “It makes me appreciate them,” he said. “In the show, it’s a very, very positive, message even though you have to go through some dark times to get to that point.”