Interview: Hoffman, Carignan, And Rittberger talk about different versions A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Ohio Theatre, Riffe Center

Through December 23rd.

By: Nov. 20, 2023
Interview: Hoffman, Carignan, And Rittberger talk about different versions A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Ohio Theatre, Riffe Center
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Interview: Hoffman, Carignan, And Rittberger talk about different versions A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Ohio Theatre, Riffe Center

You will be haunted… by Three Spirits… Without their visits,” said the Ghost, “you cannot hope to shun the path I tread.”

A Christmas Carol (Stave 1).

Like Ebenezer Scrooge, a quarter mile stretch of East State Street in downtown Columbus will be haunted by the ghosts of three different versions of Charles Dickens’ tale, A CHRISTMAS CAROL between Nov. 24 and Dec. 23. Each one of them will feature different ways of presenting the tale without changing the meaning.

According to Leda Hoffmann, who directs The Contemporary Theatre of Ohio’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the story is as pliable as Play-Doh. Companies can bend it and reshape it but, in the end, the message is universal and remains as meaningful as it did when Dickens published the novella in 1843.

“It can be so easily reinvented,” Hoffmann said. “Dickens writing is incredible. The way he crafts this story holds a mirror up to all of us: Look at your life, what you value, and what it could be if you aren't valuing the right thing.

“At the end of the day, it's about this person who learns how to lead a life that is fulfilling. It's just such an important message. Love, family, and kindness towards others (are) what it really means to be human.”

Expect the first ghost of the Dickens classic to arrive Nov. 24-26 as CAPA and the Short North Stage will be presenting a reinvented version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Ohio Theatre (39 East State Street).

The second ghostly version will run Dec. 1-23 in Studio One of the Riffe Center (77 S High Street in downtown Columbus) as The Columbus Children’s Theatre will be performing MR. SCROOGE: THE MUSICAL, an adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL,

Finally, The Contemporary Theatre of Ohio’s one person performance of A CHRISTMAS CAROL will be performed Dec. 14-Dec. 23 at the Riffe Center’s Studio Two.

Outside of downtown, there are at least two more productions of the tale. The Hilliard Ars Council will continue its 25-year tradition with its annual performances  of DICKEN'S A CHRISTMAS CAROL Dec. 7-10 at the HAC building (5425 Center St in Hilliard). Proceeds from the show benefit the Hilliard Food Pantry and Firefighters for Kids.  In Marysville,  the Avalon Productions  presents A CHRISTMAS CAROL - THE RADIO PLAY Dec. 15-16 at the Avalon Theatre (121 S. Main Street in Marysville).

Is it Dickens overkill? Perhaps but probably not. Think about how many times Hollywood has reinvented A CHRISTMAS CAROL? And yet, we still watch it.

The movie SCROOGED (1988) gives audience two versions in the same movie as Bill Murray plays TV executive who is haunted by three ghosts as he puts together a live version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL (hilariously casted with Buddy Hackett, Mary Lou Retton, and The Solid Gold Dancers). Cartoons as diverse as SCOOBY-DOO to Mr. MAGOO, THE FLINTSONE to THE JETSONS, SPONGEBOB to THE FAMILY GUY and THE SIMPSONS have all taken a shot at it.

Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner.

A Christmas Carol (Stave 1).

Hoffmann, who first fell in love with THE MUPPETS CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992), has spent several Christmas seasons putting together one version of the Dickens tale or another.

“I feel like (A CHRISTMAS CAROL) has become a part of my Christmas tradition,” said Hoffmann, who put on A COLUMBUS CHRISTMAS CAROL, resetting the story here. “Most of the Novembers and Decembers of my adult life I have spent with this story.

“When this version came to my attention, I saw it as a chance to work with Angela Iannone, an actor I just love working with. I jumped at the chance.”

The two originally met when Hoffmann served on the artistic staff for the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.  Both decided independently to move to Columbus within months of each other.

Iannone and Hoffmann, who did a one-person version of ILIAD in 2021, have known each other for years.

Angela is one of the greatest actors I know,” Hoffmann said. “(During the ILIAD) I had the most incredible time watching the ways she dives into story and pulls an audience in with her. I can't wait to do it again.”

According to Hoffmann, the Contemporary Theatre of Ohio’s version has roots in how the show was originally presented.

“When Dickens was trying to pay off some of his debts, he used to travel across America and read this story,” she said. “Our version starts with the idea of what if Dickens didn't have his book with him? What if instead of reading it, he had to act out the story himself?”

“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”

A Christmas Carol (Stave 3).


*While The Contemporary Theatre of Ohio’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL seems like a bare bone version, the Short North Stage and the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts are offering a fully staged production at the Ohio Theatre.

“This is our first joint venture and it's been an amazing partnership,” said Edward Carignan, the artistic director of the Short North Stage who is directing this version. “They offer this beautiful theater, beautiful rehearsal space and clear access to the technical crew. Combine that with our creative staff, designers and actors and it’s a perfect fit.”

Thom Christopher Warren takes on the role of Scrooge and is backed up by a talented cast of Greg Mallios (Bob Cratchit) Joel Rainwater (Jacob Marley), Vasthy Mompoint (Ghost of Christmas Past), Tim Browning (Fezziwig), Zikenna Ahanotu (Tiny Tim), Bessie Smith (The Singer) and Alyson Snyder (Mrs. Cratchit). After its Nov. 24-26 run at the Ohio Theatre, the cast then will regroup and perform the show Dec. 22 and 23 at the CAPA-owned Shubert Theatre in New Haven, CT.

“I love that the New Haven audience will see what amazing art is being produced here in Columbus,” Carignan said.

“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

 A Christmas Carol (Stave 3).

* Usually, the people who don’t have any Christmas spirit are labeled as a Scrooge. For Jay Rittenberger, a business analyst for the Ohio State University Medical Center, being labeled as a Scrooge is one of the highlights of his holiday season. Rittberger plays the titular role in Columbus Children’s Theatre production of MR. SCROOGE: THE MUSICAL.

“I've never been in any Christmas shows before,” Rittenberger said. “When I got a message from the director, saying they were interested in having me as Mr. Scrooge, I was like ‘Absolutely.’”

Rittberger shares the stage with his son Isaac, who plays Harry Cratchit. Many of the actors play multiple roles. Kristen Basore (Mrs. Dilber/Mrs. Fezziwig/Ghost of Christmas Present), Jo Boyd (Tiny Tim), Isidora Diaz (Elsie Cratchit), Patrick Doss (Bob Cratchit/Ghost of Jacob Marley), Makayla Franklin (Martha Cratchit/Isabel), Aleksa Kaups (Orphanage Woman/Undertaker’s assistant), Kate Merryman (Mrs. Cratchit / Ghost of Christmas Past), Jillian Snow (Match Girl), Dallas Ray (Mr. Fezziwig/Orphanage Man/Ghost of Christmas Future) and Nick Van Atta (Fred/Young Scrooge/Undertaker) round out the rest of the cast.

Rittberger said the show has been somewhat of a family affair, with he and Isaac running lines as they drive to each practice. But the actor said it should be a family event for the city of Columbus as well.

“It’s an iconic story everybody loves around Christmas time,” Rittberger said of the Dickens classic. “A CHRISTMAS CAROL is very familiar story but CCT’s take on it is unique.

“It’s a shorter version, it includes musical numbers, and it's more family oriented.”

Because it is a scaled down version of the show, Rittberger feels the onus of getting the most out of every scene.

“We don't have an hour and a half or two to get that journey going,” he said. “It's a much more kind of summarized version but the redemption of going from a curmudgeon to somebody who has this Christmas spirit, is still there.

“Making that change effectively is also one of the fun parts of this show.”

“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us.' Which all the family re-echoed. `God bless us everyone.' said Tiny Tim.

A Christmas Carol (Stave 3).

Carignan believes A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a much needed vaccination for what has been a divisive year.

“A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a story about how people can change,” he said. “In our political and social environment right now, I feel like we're digging in and picking sides.

“Seeing someone like Scrooge go through this evening of Ghosts and come out on the other end a completely change man is an important reminder there is a need for us to grow.”