Or, An Audiobook Narrator Says Merry Christmas the Only Way He Knows How, By Running His Mouth, and Sharing His Take on the Greatest Christmas Story Ever Told
Well, it’s Christmas again. I realize, of course, that you’ve probably been hearing Christmas music in your local Target since late August, but the traditional start of the holiday season is the moment Santa Claus makes his appearance at the end of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which means that it’s finally official: it’s Christmastime, once again. And I couldn’t be happier. Each year, as December rolls around, I’m reminded of one of the best periods of my life, when I appeared in…Keep Reading
Well, it’s Christmas again. I realize, of course, that you’ve probably been hearing Christmas music in your local Target since late August, but the traditional start of the holiday season is the moment Santa Claus makes his appearance at the end of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which means that it’s finally official: it’s Christmastime, once again. And I couldn’t be happier.
Each year, as December rolls around, I’m reminded of one of the best periods of my life, when I appeared in a touring production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL with my Shakespearean acting group, Will & Company. Together we would take all of our various classical productions on the road throughout the state of California, and while December would always be a slow month for Shakespeare, it more than made up for this by the rush on Charles Dickens. One year we were booked into more than a hundred performances, just in that brief span. Think about that: 100 performances between December 1st and Christmas, less than twenty days, given that we only performed on school days. We had to form a second company to handle the shows we couldn’t do personally. It was nuts, but we all loved it.
I first played Ebenezer Scrooge when I was in high school, living in Porterville, California, acting with the local children’s theater company. Given that I was the oldest person in the cast, it was fairly logical I’d get tapped to play the squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner, and I had a blast. Great fun, and we performed for over a thousand people one night. (Small towns really turn out to support their own.) Flash-forward to ten years later: after leaving UCLA and hooking up with Will & Company, I got to reconnect with the show in a terrific way: by playing virtually every male part in the story.
Jacob Marley (who was once introduced by our very tired narrator as “Bob Marley,” at which point I entered bobbing to a Rasta beat, much to Scrooge’s chagrin), Bob Cratchit, the gentleman at the top of the show who makes the error in judgment to ask Scrooge for a charitable donation, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet To Come… I even played the narrator, Charles Dickens himself, once, when that actor took sick. That was the day I realized I had performed this play so many times – hundreds, in fact – that I rarely had to look down at the text to narrate the show; I’d virtually memorized the whole thing.
Colin Cox was our artistic director and he had originally adapted this show himself, using the text Dickens had used on tour, reading the tale to hungry American audiences, an abridgement wholly approved by the author that also made it an ideal length for performing at schools. Well, several years later, I asked Colin if I could make some amendments to the adaptation, and he happily agreed. To do so, I borrowed from some of my favorite productions of the show over the years, adding lovely moments from the radio adaptation performed by Lionel Barrymore and Orson Welles in 1939 – such as the moment Bob Cratchit offers tuppence to the charitable gentleman after Scrooge angrily turns him away – as well as stage adaptations I’d seen, most notably Patrick Stewart’s one-man version. In it, scenes that were alluded to in the text but didn’t actually appear, such as Tiny Tim singing a song at Christmas dinner, or Scrooge attending church services in the final act, were fleshed out so that we actually heard Tiny Tim sing, and saw Scrooge struggling to find the melody in a crowd of worshipers singing a Christmas hymn. They were wonderful moments, and I wanted to experience them myself, so in they went.
We had a lovely time that year, my last season with the company, and it was the first time I’d played Scrooge since high school. Wendy Robie, she ofTWIN PEAKS fame (Nadine, the eyepatch lady), actually played Dickens for us. We were a company that prided ourselves on being gender- and ethnicity-blind when it came to casting, and given Wendy’s love of the story, it seemed a natural she should play our narrator. She looked fabulous in a Dickensian tuxedo, and performed her part with relish. Wendy told me afterward that it was the greatest time she’d ever had onstage, and I treasure that memory to this day.
An especially nice thing happened that season: having just created its website that year, Will & Company put together a separate webpage devoted to each of its touring productions. Given that I was directing and starring in A CHRISTMAS CAROL that year, I wrote up that particular page. I whipped together a brief description of the story’s creation, peppering it with little known facts and quotations from reviews it received upon its debut, then summed it all up by saying what we hoped to accomplish with our rendition of it. Well, that particular page proved very popular in Google searches, getting thousands of page hits, and I received dozens of emails shortly thereafter, primarily from people who were staging their own version of the CAROL and wanted to know if they could print my essay as the liner notes in their theatrical programs. I was honored, and always said yes. And anyone who read that page when it was up on the website years ago will recognize it when you listen to my recording: I adapted that essay into the introduction for this volume.
So, in a sense, my Will & Company introduction is a BONUS FEATURE on A CHRISTMAS CAROL, but there’s another that I think you’ll really enjoy. Along with your MP3s or CDs you’ll receive a file containing copies of artist John Leech’s eight illustrations that accompanied the original printing of A CHRISTMAS CAROL way back in 1843. Given how much Leech’s work enhanced Dickens’s magnificent story, I thought it was only appropriate to include them here.
[A CHRISTMAS CAROL - The Last of the Spirits] Getting to record A CHRISTMAS CAROL this year has, in many ways, brought me back to my roots in acting. It’s reminded me of the power of sharing wonderful stories, forcefully imagined and executed, stories that are unashamedly sentimental, and all the more powerful for it. None of us would appreciate this tale were it not so clear-cut in its morality, nor would we see ourselves in Scrooge were he not so much larger than life. And every moment I spent in the studio recording it, every line that came out of my mouth, brought back a wonderful memory from my days on the road, sharing this story with children of all ages. It’s also allowed me the chance to work with one of my oldest friends, John Massey, a buddy from Ocean View High School who created a lovely and haunting soundtrack that I think you’ll really love. In short, recording this book has been a gift I’ll treasure always.
That’s the wonderful thing about gifts, isn’t it? Here I’d intended the story as a gift to people who enjoy my work and wanted something special to listen to this Christmas. Yet it turns out that it’s I who’ve been blessed, getting to relive the memories of so many of the great people and events in my life connected to Charles Dickens’s classic tale.
Whatever your faith, I hope this Christmas season is everything you wish it to be, and that happiness, blessings and prosperity will pour forth abundantly upon your families in the year to come. I hope that this is the year we all discover how to keep Christmas in our hearts, no matter the season. May that be truly said of us, and all of us. Thanks so very much for your support. As always, thanks for listening.