Local playwright Will Jones' rendition of the classic tale "A Christ-mas Carol" has become a holiday tradition for the community. But this year, he decided it needed an upgrade.
"A Christmas Caroled," put on annually by Jones' production company since 2005, will feature new scenes and a new song in the finale.
"I learned to always be open to rewrites," said Jones, also the writer of "Ghosts: The Musical" and the rock opera "Jack." "It can be better, and I can end up doing my best work on a rewrite."
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Featured in “A Christmas Caroled,” presented by P&J?Productions, are (from left) Braydon Farster, 13, playing Peter; Jennina Pratt playing Mrs. Cratchit; Julia Whiting, 9, playing Martha; Cooper Keen, 7, playing Tiny Tim; and Michael Manfred playing Bob Cratchit.
This fresh take on a holiday favorite will run at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 through 10 at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona.
"A Christmas Caroled" sticks close to the Dickens story, Jones said, and the newly added material shouldn't throw off lovers of either the classic tale or fans of past productions of the show.
"The show does have a pretty successful history here in Central Pa.," he said.
What makes his adaptations different from others, Jones said, is that it has an edgier, younger feel to it, as well as a unique portrayal of the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge.
"People usually think of Scrooge as a rickety old man. I've always thought that's not very intimidating," Jones said."My whole take is that Scrooge is really at the height of his power. He's not some broken down old man. He's the guy who will foreclose on your house, kick you and your kids out onto the street and smack you over the head with his cane."
Jones, who plays Scrooge, said he tries to bring out the dramatic emotion and ruthlessness of the character in his portrayal each year. This complements the fact that the original Dickens story was "pretty dark," Jones added, even though it's been made into light-lighthearted movies and cartoons.
"I think people forget that about 'A Christmas Carol,' that it's primarily a ghost story," Jones said. "There are some intense, dark scenes, so I think there will be some chills and thrills for everybody in this."
Playing Scrooge himself wasn't Jones' original intention, he said, and only did the first year of the production because they couldn't find anyone else to do so during the audition process. Jones added that Scrooge is a very hard role to play, but he is looking forward to it more this year.
"It's almost become an expectation now," he said. "But when you produce, direct and act in something, it's very taxing because you have so many hats. This year is easier because I have a stage manager. I'm probably the most excited to play Scrooge this year than ever."
This is stage manager Rolayne Fickes' first involvement with with "A Christmas Caroled," but her husband has been the lighting designer for P&J Productions since the company started. Fickes said she's enjoyed working with Jones, and glad she's been able to help him by taking on some of the director duties, like following along with the script and watching the actors' block during rehearsals.
"Now he's able to rehearse with them and not be concerned with where they are and where they need to be," Fickes of Hollidaysburg said. "He's able to develop his character with his cast."
Fickes said she believes people return to see the play year after year because it gives people a "good feeling" for the holidays. She added that this year will be even better with the new numbers and choreography.
"With Will, he just has a way of having people fall in love with the plays he writes," she said.
She added that putting on the show in the Mishler, where it was produced in 2005 but hasn't been since, will provide the "perfect backdrop."
"With the historic background of the Mishler, it's just a magical place to be," she said.
Teresa Turner, music director for the production, said it's stories like "A Christmas Carol" that remind people why we celebrate the holiday and "what it's all about." She added that the new finale number will keep Jones' adaptation fresh for his annual audience.
"I think it's a song that they're going to remember from the show and hopefully come out singing it," she said.
Turner said anyone would enjoy the show because it incorporates humor, emotions and messages about the importance of family. She added that everyone likes a happy ending like the one "A Christmas Caroled" provides.
"We always want to see that fairy tale ending where everything is great," she said.
Jones said he thinks people are drawn to the message that everyone can change for the better. And in the current economy, many don't mind being drawn into Scrooge's world for a couple of hours.
"I guess just having some hope, that's why people come back," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.