The message at the heart of the classic Charles Dickens holiday tale “A Christmas Carol” is one of goodwill toward one’s fellow man. Indeed, when the Providence Players open a stage adaptation of the Victorian novella this week, audiences will see Ebenezer Scrooge transform from a miserly curmudgeon into a warm and giving man after a night troubled by visits from the ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and all that they portend. But with this production, the Providence Players are promoting the message of Christmas charity beyond the play itself.
The local theater company has partnered with The Young Hearts Foundation, a youth group that raises funds in the fight against blood cancers, to donate half of the proceeds of the show’s holiday run to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
This is the second production for which the Providence Players have teamed up with The Young Hearts Foundation; last year’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” netted more than $10,000 for the cause, and co-producer David Whitehead hopes that this year’s play will raise even more.
Whitehead is producing “A Christmas Carol” with Prince McLaughlin, whose son Ryan died after a year-long battle with leukemia at age 13. His family and friends united after his death to form The Young Hearts Foundation to raise funds to fight blood cancers like the one that cut Ryan’s life short. The group put on a number of fundraisers. The volunteers channeled their passion for performance art into one fundraiser in 2008, a run of the musical “Pippin.” But putting on the production was quite an undertaking, and thus the group formed a partnership with the Providence Players, a long-established community theater group. Now, Young Hearts volunteers work backstage on the production, and Providence Players actors and crew lend their time and talents in the fight against blood cancer.
It’s a cause of great importance to the family of Tyler DeMille, who will be playing Tiny Tim. DeMille, who’s now almost 7, battled leukemia when he was just months old; he’s been a survivor of the disorder for about six years now.
“Tyler and his family are very courageous, and advocate on behalf of the cause,” Whitehead said.
As Tiny Tim, DeMille will play the ill boy who would die without Scrooge’s charity and whose plight leads to Scrooge’s change of heart. Scrooge will be played by community theater veteran John Barklay Burns. He’s long enjoyed the Dickens tale, he said, sharing how he’s kept his 1950s copy of the story from when he was a school boy in Scotland. Embodying the transformation brought on by Scrooge’s glimpse into a future made worse for his misanthropic ways is crucial to bringing this classic character to the stage. And with changes in his voice – from a grating tone to a richer one – and changes in his physicality, Burns plans to portray a changed man.
“Scrooge is just essentially the idea of transformation, and the Christmas season is about transformation,” Burns said.
Whitehead praised Burns for the way he brings Dickens’ language to life on the stage, which is important to the production. In this adaptation of the story, Director Brian O’Connor explained, narration is prevalent and delivered by many different characters. This unique adaptation, O’Connor said, makes for a good family play with a 75-minute run time that still effectively conveys the story of “A Christmas Carol.”
“We hope our audiences enjoy the show; we hope that they participate verbally and vocally,” Burns said. “We hope that we draw them into the story, and that they leave with a general air of Christmas goodwill and the idea that futures can be changed.”
“A Christmas Carol” runs Dec. 6 – 15. Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The play will be performed at The James Lee Community Center Theater, 2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church. Tickets are $17. For more information, visit providenceplayers.org.