When Charles Dickens was writing "A Christmas Carol" in the mid-1800s, you can be pretty sure that the master didn't envision any
But that is exactly what you'll find when Altoona Community Theatre presents the Broadway musical version of "A Christmas Carol," featuring a score by Alan Menken, the composer behind "The Little Shop of Horrors" and many Disney animated classics, such as "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Above, Scrooge (Bryce Cossitor, far left) and the butcher (Rick Marshall, second from left) show street urchin Nicholas (Alex Vicars) a prize turkey, as village ladies (from left, Tracey Ingold, Janet Bergamaschi and Leslie Rupp) look on.
"The first thing we want to emphasize is that this is a new version of 'A Christmas Carol' that hasn't been seen before in this area," said Steve Helsel, the director. "It's a big Broadway musical version of the show."
The production will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday and Nov. 16 and 17 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 17 and 18 at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona.
The musical "A Christmas Carol" played each holiday season on Broadway from 1994 to 2003. It was adapted into a TV movie starring Kelsey Grammer, Jane Krakowski and Jason Alexander in 2004.
According to Helsel, the musical sticks very closely to the classic Dickens story. It just happens to be told in a new way.
"It's basically all music," he explained. "There's music underneath the little bit of dialogue that there is, and then it's right back to the music."
But don't expect to hear any familiar tunes.
"A lot of Christmas productions use traditional holiday songs, and it doesn't sound like that at all," Helsel said. "It definitely sounds like a Broadway show."
A Broadway show that caused quite a stir when ACT held auditions. Helsel said that more than 70 people auditioned for the show, including many children. Even the large cast - 44 people - couldn't take all those who wanted to participate.
"It's one of the largest [casts] we've had," Helsel said. "And we have all ages, from children to senior citizens. ... There's a lot of new people in the show, which is great, too. And a lot of new people in starring roles, which is nice."
Alongside all those new faces is one very prominent, familiar one: Bryce Cossitor, 52, of Altoona as Dickens' "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner," Ebenezer Scrooge. Cossitor is an ACT regular and a member of the company's board of directors and was drawn to the part by its "challenge."
"Of course, it's a classic tale, a classic role," Cossitor said. "What I find interesting is the evolution of the character - from a mean, nasty miserly man to someone who develops a warm, loving, heart and a love of Christmas. So that's a great challenge for an actor."
Scrooge's story of redemption stretches his acting skills.
"Very quickly moving between emotions [is difficult]," he said. "You've got everything from being very mean and cold hearted to being afraid to being almost giddy."
For his part, Helsel is happy to have Cossitor take on the role.
"I think the challenging thing for him is it's not just him performing - he has a lot of songs that he sings - but he has a lot of downtime where he's not the focus, but he's onstage," he said. "So he has to stay in character but he's not the focus.
"He's got the perfect voice and the perfect demeanor for this role. We're really blessed to have him."
One of the new faces in this year's cast is Joshua Phillips of Hollidaysburg, an East Freedom native who has lived in New York City and in Arizona and recently moved back to the area.
Phillips, who plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, was drawn to ACT's "A Christmas Carol" because he was able to see the original version of the show as a child.
"I had seen this version of the show on Broadway the first year it was playing," he said. "I saw it with my mom and my dad and I saw it in Madison Square Garden. I remember just absolutely loving it. When I heard ACT was doing a version of the show, I just wanted to be a part of it."
According to Phillips, his role is a dual one, because all of the ghosts appear twice in the musical.
"The Ghost of Christmas Present is a double part, in that I play just a regular person in the city of London who sees Scrooge's behavior, and then I manifest as the Ghost of Christmas Present later on," he said.
Surprisingly, the part also gives him a chance to be part of something perhaps unexpected of a ghost: A big production number.
"I have the opportunity to do a tap number," Phillips said. "It's a big, flashy, Vaudeville style number, with dancing girls and the whole thing."
Phillips thinks the show will be well-received when it debuts Thursday.
"Everyone is working really hard, and I think the end product is going to show that," he said. "We're really starting to peak, I think."
Helsel sees some anticipation for the show in the community, as well.
"[Excitement] seems to be building," he said. "We added a performance - there's a Saturday matinee. I think people really enjoy having a big Christmas show before Thanksgiving to sort of kick off the holiday season."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.