Rubicon Theatre Company kicks off its 20th Anniversary Season with the return of the critically-acclaimed holiday hit Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Broadway, TV and film veterans Peter Van Norden (RTC's Taking Sides, Copenhagen) and Emmy Award-winner Joe Spano ("NCIS," RTC's Bucky) reprise their roles as Scrooge and Marley, respectively, in this innovative telling of Dickens' timeless tale of transformation and redemption.
Adapted by Producing Artistic Director Karyl Lynn Burns and directed by Brian McDonald, the 27-member cast features many of the same actors from the original production that earned a "Critic's Pick" in the Los Angeles Times and rave reviews from Ventura County Star, CASA Magazine, VIDA Magazine and the Ventura Breeze. This imaginative version of Dickens' novella offers a revealing portrait of the yearning, lost child inside the cold-hearted miserly man. Actors perform in the storytelling style of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Nicholas Nickleby, playing characters, animals...even dressing gowns and doors! Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL opens in Ventura on Saturday, December 9at 7:00 p.m. followed by an after-party at Rhumb Line Restaurant. Low-priced previews are December 6-8. The show runs Wednesdays through Sundays through December 23.
The plot of A CHRISTMAS CAROL follows the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Van Norden) who is visited by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley (Spano) and three spirits, who show him the error of his ways. Drawing upon from rich language of Dickens' novel, the production is presented in a storytelling style in which actors play multiple characters and also narrate their thoughts and actions. The lack of a fourth wall allows the audience to be a part of Scrooge's inner journey as he discovers the joy and meaning in Christmas.
Director Brian McDonald describes Rubicon's version of the holiday tale as, "an actor-driven, ensemble-devised production, full of surprises. The story is told in an imaginative, narrative style, with actors directly addressing the audience at various moments."
McDonald continues, "Rubicon has always been dedicated to producing theatre that is relevant and engaging. It's one of the core reasons I love working here. The premiere of this production was a thrilling experience for us as artists, and for the audiences, with many performances sold out. We decided to bring the production back in order to share it with those that were not able to get tickets and those who wanted to see it again. The remount also affords us a wonderful opportunity to enhance the production by incorporating new scenes and theatrical elements."
Critics cheered Rubicon's version of this yuletide favorite, with Philip Brandes of the Los Angeles Times praising the direction, the cast and Burns' fidelity to the text.
"Brian McDonald makes a virtue of the aforesaid Dickens grandiloquence by incorporating techniques popularized by the Book-It Repertory Theatre of Seattle -- to wit, the allocation of recited narrative as well as dialogue among the excellent cast to better illuminate their characters' back stories, perspectives and interior states."
Brandes called the performances of both Van Norden and Spano "virtuoso." He continues, "...light-hearted assumptions are quickly dispelled...by Spano's harrowing transformation into Marley's tormented ghost...for his part, Van Norden offers nuanced insight into the origins of loneliness and poverty that shaped Scrooge, and an affecting transformation of his own in portraying the reclamation of human warmth..."
Rita Moran of the Ventura County Star remarked, "The show is a compelling ensemble piece, due to Burns' flowing adaptation, director Brian McDonald's finesse, and the actors' ability to slip in and out of roles and moods with alacrity as they travel over the multiple stairs and stages of the handsomely conceived set."
James Spencer and Shirley Lorraine of the Ventura Breeze enthused, "The performances and overall dynamic freshness of the Rubicon's show will renew your appreciation for the depth and power of this holiday tale... Triple-A production - amazing, astounding and awe inspiring."
CASA Magazine succinctly claimed, "This Carol has no wrong notes," and VIDA Magazine called it "Excellent and very entertaining."
"Whatever one's belief system," says Burns, "we hope attendees will find Rubicon's A CHRISTMAS CAROL both entertaining and moving. Scrooge's journey is a universal one. Whatever hurts we have experienced, whatever wrong turns we have made," says Burns, "it is never too late to change. We can honor the past, present and future. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we can become a child again and be reborn."
The design team for A CHRISTMAS CAROL includes set design by Tom Giamario, lighting design by Mike Billings, sound designer by Cricket S. Myers, costume design by Abra Flores, hair and wig design by Danielle White, and prop design by T. Theresa Scarano. Jessie Vacchiano is Production Stage Manager with Kathleen Parsons as Assistant Stage Manager. David King as Technical Director.
More on Van Norden and Spano as Scrooge and Marley
No stranger to the role of Scrooge, Peter Van Norden also portrayed the crotchety character for two seasons at San Diego Rep. "Scrooge has been dear to my heart since I was a boy," says Van Norden. "What I love in Karyl Lynn's astonishing adaptation is the constant theatricality. It gives the story vibrancy and clarity."
Van Norden is a New York native whose Broadway credits include Hamlet with Kevin Kline and Sam Waterston, Jungle of Cities with Al Pacino, Henry V with Meryl Streep, and Saint Joan with Lynn Redgrave. He has worked at many of the nation's most prestigious rep companies, including The Globe Theatre, San Diego Rep, San Jose Rep (Bay Area Theatre Critics Award for Andrew Undershaft in Major Barbara), Center Stage, Seattle Rep, Intiman Theatre, and Berkeley Rep. His dozens of film and TV roles include leads opposite Jodie Foster in "The Accused," as Steve Guttenberg's partner in "Police Academy 2," and as Ralph Brentner in the Stephen King mini-series "The Stand." He has appeared at Rubicon as Wilhelm Furtwängler in Taking Sides, Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol for two years and Niels Bohr in Copenhagen.
Joe Spano returns to the role of Jacob Marley (whom he enjoys calling "the voice of tough love"). For him, this adaption has been an exciting opportunity to, "discover the beautiful language of the original novella and remember why Dickens' classic remains an enduring holiday tradition."
Spano has appeared in thirty feature films, including "Hart's War," "Primal Fear," "Apollo 13," "American Graffiti," "Hollywoodland," "Fracture" and "Frost/Nixon." Series TV credits include Special FBI Agent T. C. Fornell on "NCIS" (now in its 13th year), Lt. Henry Goldblume on "Hill Street Blues," "Mercy Point," "Amazing Grace," "Murder One," "NYPD Blue," and "Midnight Blue," for which he won an Emmy Award. He made his Broadway debut in Arthur Miler's The Price with Hector Elizondo. West Coast stage credits include three shows at South Coast Rep; Bill Cain's Equivocation at The Geffen Playhouse; The Guys at Berkeley Rep, of which he is a founding member; and multiple shows at Rubicon, including Sylvia, R. Buckminster Fuller..., Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Sunset Limited.
Presented as a play with music, Rubicon's production also incorporates traditional carols sung a cappella by cast members including Teri Bibb (Christine in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway for seven years); Jennifer Leigh Warren (Big River, Little Shop of Horrors and Marie Christine in New York); Claire Burgi (Rubicon's Defying Gravity and youth productions of Bye Bye Birdie, Babes in Arms and West Side Story); and Trevor Wheetman (a Nashville-based artist whose recent Rubicon credits include last season's Music for Changing Times Festival, Return to the Forbidden Planet, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Lonesome Traveler at Rubicon and Off Broadway. Wheetman and Bibb also play fiddle and accordion, respectively, in the Fezziwig party scene in Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
Other Cast Members
Returning from last year's production in the 26-member cast are Basil Augustine as the Ghost of Christmas Present; Lilli Babb as Martha Cratchit/Caroline; Robert Beuth as Topper; Matt Bourne as Young Scrooge; Troy Braun as John; Dan Call as Mr. Fezziwig; Gary Clemmer as Mr. Cratchit; Sophie Massey as the Ghost of Christmas Past; and Neirin Winter sharing the role as Boy Scrooge. New to this year's production are Jeremy Benitez and Ian Nunnery sharing the role of Tiny Tim; Claire Burgi as Fezziwig's Daughter; Logan Burns as William; Joseph Fuqua as Fred; Deborah Gold as Fred's Wife; Rebecca Graham as Fred's Wife's Sister/Housemaid; Coree Kotula as Fan/Beatrice; Seryozha La Porte as Belle's Husband/Ghost of Christmas Future; Linda Livingstonas Charwoman/Miner's Wife; Jennifer Ridgeway as Belle; and Seth Stevenson as Peter Cratchit/Dick Wilkins
About the Director
Over the past few seasons at Rubicon, Brian McDonald directed Other Desert Cities at Rubicon (five Stage Scene L.A. Awards including Outstanding Direction and Production); A Tuna Christmas (in which he also appeared); The Sunset Limited; Bus Stop (five Ovation nominations including Best Play); "Master Harold"... and the boys (three Ovation nominations including Best Play, Indy Award and Stage Scene L.A. Award for Direction); and the World Premiere musical Hello! My Baby, written and conceived by Cheri Steinkellner. Regionally, McDonald has appeared on stage at Denver Center, Theatre Virginia, The Lyric Stage, La Mirada Performing Arts Center, Ensemble Theatre Company, The Pasadena Playhouse, Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center and the Ahmanson. He received the LA Weekly Award for Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance as Gaveston in the Circle X production of Edward II directed by Michael Michetti. He is a BFA graduate of Boston Conservatory.
About the Adaptor
The book for Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL is written by Rubicon's Producing Artistic Director Karyl Lynn Burns. Burnsfounded Rubicon with husband James O'Neil in 1998 and has overseen more than 130 productions for the company, including the World Premieres of 23.5 Hours/Conviction by Carey Crim (a co-production with Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor directed by Scott Schwartz);Daddy Long Legs by John Caird and Paul Gordon (which has traveled to 15 U.S. cities and 4 countries); The Best is Yet to Come: The Music of C. Coleman (NY Drama Desk Award); Lonesome Traveler by James O'Neil (Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations); and Hello! My Baby by Cheri Steinkellner. She recently co-directed 23.5 Hours/Conviction at the Royal Manitoba Theatre in Canada with Katharine Farmer. Burns produced Tom Dugan's Wiesenthal Off-Broadway at The Acorn Theatre with Daryl Roth, directed by Jenny Sullivan (Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations). She also produced the West Coast BeckettFest, which brought International Artists to Ventura for a month-long celebration of the works of Samuel Beckett.
The Enduring Legacy of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Published as a novella by Charles Dickens in 1843, A Christmas Carol was met with instant acclaim and has never been out of print. The story follows rancorous miser Ebenezer Scrooge as he is visited by his deceased business partner Jacob Marley and three apparitions: Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. These encounters spur Scrooge to make a dramatic change for the good, embracing mankind through a generous spirit of kindness and charity.
At the time of A Christmas Carol's publication in England, resurgence in Christmas traditions had sparked renewed interest in the holiday. A tireless champion for the poor, Dickens interlaced the growing enthusiasm for Christmas into a cautionary parable against harsh treatment towards the less fortunate -- a reoccurring theme in his seminal novels.
The first public reading Charles Dickens gave was of A Christmas Carol at Birmingham Town Hall to the Industrial and Literary Institute in 1852. Subsequent readings only days later included audiences comprised mainly of the working class. Until his death, Dickens continued editing A Christmas Carol with an emphasis on its vocal linguistic qualities, adapting his prose to suit the ear. Much like a song, the novella is divided into five staves (song stanzas), relating back to the significance of the title. For over 160 years, this classic holiday tale has been adapted in more than twenty film versions, hundreds of television shows and stage versions, eight recordings and four operas.
Schedule, Special Performances and Ticket Info
Low-priced previews for Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL begin on Wednesday, December 6 at 7 p.m., continuing Thursday, December 7 and Friday, December 8 at 8 p.m. Opening night is Saturday, December 9, at 7 p.m. with an after party at Rhumb Line Restaurant. The production continues Wednesdays at 2 and 7 p.m., Thursdays at 7 p.m. (new time!), and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through December 23. All performances are at Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main Street in Ventura's Downtown Cultural District (the corner or Main and Laurel). For tickets, go to www.rubicontheatre.org or call (805) 667-2900. Talkbacks with actors are scheduled after the Wednesday 7 p.m. performances on December 13 and 20.
Tickets for Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL range from $40 to $65 (opening night is $150 and includes a post-show reception. Tickets for students with ID are $25; teachers, Equity members and military are $40. There is a $5 discount for seniors 65 and older with ID. All tickets have a $4 processing fee. Discounts of 10% to 20% are available for groups of 10 or more, depending on the size of the group. Tickets for Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL may be purchased in person through the Rubicon Theatre Company Box Office at the corner of Main and Laurel in Ventura (Laurel entrance and downstairs) or online at www.rubicontheatre.org. To charge by phone, call 805.667.2900.
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