Tangled Up In Scrooge
The Alliance Theater celebrates three decades of A Christmas Carol

By Lee Valentine Smith

After two seasons at the Cobb Energy Centre, the Alliance Theater's production of A Christmas Carol is returning to the recently renovated Coca-Cola Stage at Alliance Theatre just in time for its 30th season.

This edition of the show is unique with the inclusion of eleven-year-old Karah Adams as Tiny Tim - the first female actor to play the role in over a decade. Directed by Rosemary Newcott, the Alliance production has become a holiday tradition for many families around the region.

Returning to the cast for his sixth season as Ebenezer Scrooge is acclaimed Atlanta actor David de Vries. The busy actor's credits include the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast and a national tour of Wicked. His recent Alliance Theatre credits include One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Shrek, and Carapace. INsite spoke with busy actor-musician-photographer before a recent performance of the popular show.

Let's talk about this play; I understand it's quite the popular attraction.

(Laughs) Yes, every year around this time, it seems there's been some interest in it.

Seriously, at this point, it must be fun to see the families in the audience grow and change as the years go by.

Yeah we definitely see it in the audience and sometimes even in the cast. Watching the kids get older is certainly one of the more interesting things about the show. We've got a girl in the cast, Bella Fraker, who started when she was just the cutest, tiniest wisp of a thing, the shortest Cratchit. And now she's 12, I guess. They age out at 13, and then you're done. But she's had a great deal of national success. She's done a national tour with School Of Rock and more. She's been a joy to work with four years ago and now she's back and nearly 'all growed up.'

Since this is the 30th anniversary of the production, it must be sort of a family affair at this point.

It is. It's the inverse of summer camp in many ways. There are people who've been doing this show for over twenty years. Bart Hansard who plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, we did our first Christmas show together in 2000 at the Actor's Theater of Louisville, we did A Tuna Christmas there. So we go way back. Neal Ghant is another guy is another guy who has been doing it for years and years and years. You know, it's like at this point, these are our people. We welcome in the newbies and hope that they have the stamina and work ethic and talent to really bring something to the show. The longstanding members of the cast are really invested in the show. Like Bart and Neal, you won't see any variance of their performances through the entirety of the run. They are top-shelf every time they go out. That should be the goal for everybody of course but it's hard work to do that – every time.

There are so many obstacles to prevent perfect performances from happening.

Oh, so many. You may not be feeling that great, or your mother has died, or this or that. That's the part that makes it a challenge.

But that's the magic of theater, you have to transcend all the outside distractions in order to do the job.

Yeah, you have to leave all of that at the stage door and bring the A-game because everybody pays to see the show. You really owe it to them to do your very best.

Since this is your sixth year, probably your greatest chore is to keep it fresh. Not only for the audience who may have seen it before, but for yourself.

Yeah, I've had a lot of experiences doing long runs. I did close to three thousand performances as Lumière in Beauty and the Beast, in various iterations - on Broadway, on national tours and three years of Wicked. So I kinda know what the gig is. Prior to having done it, it was intimidating. But now, after having done it for twenty years, I know how to approach it so that I can keep it fresh in my head.

Do you change it up from time to time?

I do. People might not notice it, even if they saw consecutive performances, but I do tend to change it up just a little bit all the time. It could be in the blocking or the way I approach a scene emotionally or just the way I deliver a particular line. Bart says - and he's worked with Chris Keyser, who was a wonderful Scrooge as well, and myself - he says, in comparison to the two of us that Chris is like Bach, a string quartet. But he says I'm like Miles Davis. I'm a little more improvisator, a little more on-the-fly.

Purists will complain if you dare to deviate too much from the familiar story, but you have to keep it interesting for the audience and yourself.

Yeah, even though the words stay the same, when I come back to this show, I'm feel like I'm different. It's like the old adage, the river you stand in is not the river you stepped in. I feel like I bring a different person to the role every time I come back to it. Because the stakes are so high for a character like Scrooge, it really gets close to your heartstrings. It's a lot of things to confront. The things I confront in my own life are mirrored someway in the ways I approach the performance.

Your relationship with [director] Rosemary Newcott is obviously a big part of the process.

Without a doubt. We've been working together for almost thirty years now. I've always had the utmost affection and admiration for her. Working with her is like old home week every time we're together, it's always a great reunion.

At this point, you guys must have a shorthand for collaboration.

Yeah, well because I'm a director as well and not known for being discreet about sharing my opinion about things, she's really good in that she gives me a lot of latitude. I think she trusts me. She knows, after seeing me hundreds of times of doing the show, that I'm gonna protect this precious gift that we believe is a true gift to the city. She knows that my approach to the performance is a kind of a constant search, a search for what is true for myself at that particular moment in my stage life. That variance is something that she admires. So it's nice to have that freedom of not hearing her say, 'Um, you know the way you did that on Thursday? Ok, let's keep it like that.' She doesn't say that.

The Alliance's 30th annual production of A Christmas Carol runs now through December 24 on The Coca-Cola Stage at Alliance Theatre. For tickets and information, call 404.733.5000 or visit alliancetheatre.org/christmas.

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