By May S. Ruiz
The joyful observance of the holiday season isn’t complete without annual traditions one remembers with nostalgia. At A Noise Within (ANW), the classical repertory theatre company in Pasadena, it means a restaging of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Celebrating its 25th anniversary and its fifth production of this time-honored tale, ANW will have 16 performances of “A Christmas Carol” starting Friday, Dec. 2 and closing Friday, Dec. 23. Producing Artistic Directors Geoff Elliott (who adapted the play from the novella) and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott co-direct this masterpiece about the redemptive power of love.
Much like ANW’s ardent followers, the company’s resident artists look forward to this year-end event with anticipation. “Remounting our acclaimed presentation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” allows families to once again take a supremely theatrical journey, and celebrate the transformative power of forgiveness during the holidays,” says Elliott. Rodriguez-Elliott adds, “Ebenezer Scrooge’s rebirth from miserly curmudgeon to the epitome of love and generosity affirms our faith in the potent goodness of humanity during this beloved time of year.”
“The beauty of going back to these great works is that you have a history with it – because they are in your muscle memory, you have the opportunity to discover new things,” explains Rodriguez-Elliott. “You don’t have the same pressure of having to create something for the first time; it’s very lived in.”
“For me there’s a unique aspect every year – I can see something from a different perspective because I’m a year older,” Rodriguez-Elliott continues. “There are elements of a particular play that have altered because of where we are personally and where we are as a country. It takes on a different meaning for everyone, depending on where one is in life at that time.”
But wherever one finds himself in life, when the entire ensemble belts out Ego Plum’s majestic song ‘Glorious’ at the close, one will understand why it was undeniably worth the wait and coming back for. ANW’s “A Christmas Carol” is like aged wine – its flavor gets deeper and richer with each year. One could never have too much of it.
One thing that will change annually is the casting of the Cratchit children. As Rodriguez-Elliott relates, “Last year, resident artist Freddy Douglas’son, Eli, was too young but we knew at some point he would be right for Tiny Tim. He has a little sister who is in the wings getting ready for her turn. She knows all the songs and sings them in my ear during rehearsals.”
Ashlyn Woo, an eighth grader in Suzanne Middle School, plays Belinda Cratchit this year. She has previously attended the Fine Arts Academy of Dance and Summer with Shakespeare to prepare her for stage acting. While she has been in other shows, including the Nutcracker, this is her first professional performance in an ANW production.
Enthuses Woo, “I found out I have been picked to play Belinda and be a part of the ensemble on a Friday after school. I read “A Christmas Carol” in seventh grade and now I’m a character in a production of it! How amazing is that!”
“To be in the show, I’ve had to do my homework in the car and sometimes during rehearsals,” Woo confides. “But it’s so worth it.”
Another young actor debuting on “A Christmas Carol” as a Cratchit child is Samuel Genghis Christian. A sixth grader at Blair Middle School in Pasadena, he also trained at Summer with Shakespeare and Youth Conservatory at ANW.
Christian reveals, “I knew I wanted to perform on stage when I saw “A Christmas Carol” for the first time two years ago. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life besides watching Harry Potter and the 2015 Super Bowl!”
“It was easy for me to get into the role once rehearsals started because I had seen the production before; I knew what it was going to be like,” adds Christian. “It’s such a wonderful show and I invited all my classmates and teachers to see it. My English class is coming to a student matinee.”
Of his time on the set of “A Christmas Carol,” Christian exclaims, “Everybody has been super nice to me and I feel really at home. It’s fantastalicious!” Being in the company of talented ANW performers must produce such an incredible feeling if the experience moves one to invent words.
For Freddy Douglas, who is once more narrating, this year’s “A Christmas Carol” has greater significance as he shares the stage for the first time with his son, Eli Stuart. According to Douglas, Stuart hadn’t really shown an interest in acting until last year.
Says Douglas, “Eli saw “A Christmas Carol” last year and started singing ‘Glorious’, the final musical number on the show. Then seeing Apollo Dukakis in The Imaginary Invalid caught his imagination and he agreed to have a go at Tiny Tim.”
Stuart is seven years old and attends second grade at Ivanhoe in Silverlake. Douglas states, “His teacher is working with us, helping him juggle the demands of school with that of the production. He does extra reading on two show days.”
Douglas refrains from giving unsolicited advice to his young aspiring thespians. He discloses, “I just tell them to enjoy it and don’t bump into the furniture. However, this morning his four-year-old sister sang ‘The Charwoman Song’ about 50 times so he gets pointers from her.”
According to Stuart, “Working with my dad is a thrill; it feels special. I saw him on this show last year and I wanted to be on stage with him.” On the other hand, it was Douglas who was concerned. He confesses, “I was wondering if I might get very emotional after this song but so far I’ve managed to hold it together.”
Sentiments like these are one of the reasons why ANW puts on “A Christmas Carol” every year. As Rodriguez-Elliott points out, “It takes on a different meaning depending on where one is in life at that time.”