• By the Numbers: "A Christmas Carol" at 40

    by 
    SCR Staff
     | Nov 08, 2019
    Hal Landon and the ACC Logo

    As A Christmas Carol marks its 40th year, Orange County’s favorite (and longest-running) holiday show has delighted nearly 575,000 audience members during more than 1,400 performances. Many of the theatregoers are new to the show, but others are so familiar with it that they can recite the dialogue.

    Art Koustik in A Christmas Carol
    ​2004: Art Koustik as Joe, whom he has portrayed since the beginning and Madison Dunaway as a Scavenger.
    Howard Shangraw and Hal Landon Jr. in A Christmas Carol
    ​1992: Howard Shangraw, who played Scrooge's nephew, Fred, through 2006, with Scrooge.
    Richard Doyle and Hal Landon Jr. in A Christmas Carol
    1993: Richard Doyle as the Spirit of Christmas Past and Scrooge. Doyle has played several roles during his 36 seasons and continues as the Spirit of Christmas Past today.
    Don Took in A Christmas Carol
    ​1980: Don Took begins his 22-year run as the Ghost of Jacob Marley.

    Why do they return year after year, bringing their growing families again and again—through generations?

    “It’s comforting,” says John-David Keller, who has directed the show across all four decades. “You settle into your seat as the curtain rises and know that, in just a few moments, Hal Landon Jr. will stride across the stage as Ebenezer Scrooge. His character is not a nice man. But, with the help of three spirits, Scrooge will transform into a generous soul. In the end, he’ll turn a somersault—his signature move—come up with his top hat in place and be as loveable as he once was curmudgeonly.”

    This season, Landon will retire from the role after that final somersault on Dec. 24, 2019.

    And Keller will helm this season for his 40th and final time, but with an enthusiasm that never wanes. Familiar actors inhabit the lead roles, and most of the designers have been with A Christmas Carol season after season, the thread, Keller says, that keeps the tradition going.

    Over the course of four decades, 2​19 professional actors have held adult roles in the show and some 532 Theatre Conservatory children have portrayed the likes of Tiny Tim, the Cratchits and others.

    “The children bring an added joy to the set, with their enthusiasm and sense of wonder,” Keller says. “That’s invigorating for us old characters.”

    There also are three adult roles that change each season, cast from among graduates of ​the Acting Intensive Program in SCR's Theatre Conservatory​—these roles are for actors who who are not yet members of Actors Equity Association (the union of professional actors and stage managers). For many of these grads, A Christmas Carol is their first professional show. 

    To mark the milestone 40th anniversary of A Christmas Carol, here are some fun facts for fans of the show:

    • There have been roughly 5,400 hours of rehearsal over 40 years.
    • 1996 was the last time that all SCR founding members (actors who joined the company in its early years) appeared together in the show: Ron Boussom, Richard Doyle, John-David Keller, Art Koustik, Hal Landon Jr., Martha McFarland and Don Took.
    • Landon, Keller, Koustik and Doyle will be in the 40th anniversary show.
    • The founding members have appeared in the show a collective 250 years:
    • Hal Landon Jr.: 40 years
    • John-David Keller: 40 years (directing & acting)
    • Art Koustik: 39 years
    • Richard Doyle: 36 years
    • Don Took: 22 years
    • Martha McFarland: 21 years
    • Ron Boussom: 8 years
    • Landon has missed only three performances. In 1997, he was cast in a pivotal role in Sidney Bechet Killed a Man, which didn’t close until Sunday, Nov. 30. He stepped back into the role of Scrooge on Dec. 2, missing one matinee and two evening previews. Director Keller went on as Scrooge.
    • Landon has missed the iconic ‘hat trick’ somersault—just once. He backed up, took the movement again and landed upright with the hat on his head. If you haven’t seen the show, watch for this Scrooge signature move toward the end of the show.
    • Landon’s battle scars include two broken toes—the little toe on his left foot when, in stocking feet, he ran into furniture backstage, and the little toe on his right foot, also in stocking feet, when he ran into the foot of Scrooge’s bed.
    • Landon’s daughter, Caroline, was cast as Young Girl About Town in the 1996 production of A Christmas Carol.
    • Landon’s granddaughter, Presley, was cast as Tiny Tim in the 2018 production.
    • Richard Doyle is best-known as The Spirit of Christmas Past, but he also has portrayed a Solicitor, Joe, Mr. Fezziwig, a Gentleman and even Scrooge’s nephew, Fred.
    • Doyle’s daughter, Sarah, was cast as Martha Cratchit in the 1996 production.
    • The costume for the Ghost of Jacob Marley accidentally snagged on a piece of the set when Don Took portrayed the character. The stage crew stepped in to free him and the costume so that the scene could continue.
    • Art Koustik missed only one season due to a motorcycle accident that left him incapacitated for the entire run, but he bounced back and hasn’t missed a performance since.
    • Cliff Faulkner designed the original set, which evolved over time to the current design by Thomas Buderwitz.
    • Donna and Tom Ruzika have designed the lighting for each of the 40 years.
    • Dwight Richard Odle designed the original costumes.
    • Howard Shangraw appeared the first season as Young Ebenezer and, as he grew older, appeared as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, a role he played through 2006.
    • Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa, who marks 28 years with the production this year, portrayed Sally for roughly 15 years.
    • Three actors have had long-running stints as Bob Cratchit—John Ellington from the first season until 1998; David Whalen took over and was the character for four years; and since then Bob has been played by SCR stalwart Daniel Blinkoff.
    • The show’s dramaturg is the man who adapted the Dickens novella for SCR: Jerry Patch. He now works in New York at Manhattan Theatre Club, but he’ll be back visiting for this 40th anniversary year.
    • From the half-hour call (30 minutes until show time), until their parents take them home after the show, the kids in the cast are never alone backstage. SCR supplies a fun-loving staff member with the western-sounding title of “wrangler” to serve as backstage guide, friend, mentor and sounding board.
    Learn more about A Christmas Carol and buy tickets.
  • Alexander and His Terrible, Horrible, No Good—Yet Everlasting—Day

    by 
    Andy Knight
     | Nov 04, 2019
    Alexander Logo with Judith Viorst inset

    ​Author Judith Viorst.

    Alexander is having—you guessed it—a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He wakes up with gum in his hair, trips on his skateboard and drops his sweater in sink water. At breakfast, he’s the only one of his brothers who doesn’t find a prize in his cereal box and in the carpool, he’s the only one without a window seat.

    Perhaps he should move to Australia…

    At school, all the students show the teacher, Mrs. Dickens, their drawings. Mrs. Dickens loves Audrey’s drawing of a house and compliments Albert on his portrait of his family—so why doesn’t she like Alexander’s invisible castle? “Too much imagination,” she says. Then it’s time for the students to practice their singing for the school concert. Nobody wants to sing with Alexander until Mrs. Dickens makes them. Alexander tries his very best, but is scolded for singing too loudly. Thank goodness it’s time for recess.

    Unfortunately, recess doesn’t go much better. No one will play with Alexander or tag him in the big game of tag. “How come you’re being so mean to me? I’m your best friend,” Alexander asks Paul. “You used to be my best friend,” Paul says. “Now you’re only my third best friend.”

    What a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Things can’t be this bad in Australia.

    What’s the only thing that could make Alexander’s day more terrible? A trip to the dentist! At the dentist, Alexander is the only brother to have a cavity. And then, at the shoe store, Alexander is the only one forced to buy plain old white sneakers. Could things get any worse?

    The answer is YES—poor Alexander can’t seem to catch a break. Perhaps it really is time to move to Australia. Or perhaps—just perhaps—if he makes it through today, tomorrow will be better.

    Alexander Book Cover

    ​​The cover of the 1972 publication.

    Since it was first published in 1972, Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day—the children’s book on which the musical is based—has become a favorite among young readers and their parents and has sold more than seven million copies worldwide. It’s a simple story, told concisely by its direct (and increasingly frustrated) narrator, Alexander, who faces a litany of indignities over the course of a day. And while it’s amusing to hear his complaints about lima beans for dinner and kissing on TV, there’s also something universally relatable about the agony of a bad day. Relatable—and, perhaps, quietly comforting.

    “It’s a useful idea because it suggests that there’s a beginning and an end, like maybe tomorrow will be better,” Viorst said in a 2014 interview about the book with Entertainment Weekly. “And everyone has bad days, and when you’re having a bad day, you think, ‘Here I am being singled out by a hostile, malicious universe that is picking exclusively on me.’ And then you read a book about bad days and realize they happen to everyone, not just tormented, persecuted you. I think there is something consoling about that.”

    Alexander’s initial success paved the way for two subsequent books featuring the headstrong, sometimes irascible little boy— Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday (1978) and Alexander, Who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move (1995)—and in 2014, Viorst released a fourth book in the series, Alexander, Who’s Trying His Best to Be the Best Boy Ever. With nearly 50 years in the canon of children’s literature, it’s no surprise that the character of Alexander has found his way into other mediums, as well. In 1990, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was adapted into a 30-minute animated TV special and in 2014, a feature film was released with a starry cast that included Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner.

    But perhaps the most delightful adaptation of the picture book is Viorst’s own—that is, the 55-minute musical adaptation she co-wrote with composer Shelly Markham. Viorst said that collaborating on the musical was “one of the great pleasures of my life.” And it’s not hard to see why. While the musical version stays true to the book’s plot—and its core message—it shines a light on the protagonist’s vivid imagination, which springs to life in show-stopping numbers like “Australia” and “Shoes.” The musical first premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in 1998 and has since been performed across the country. And now, South Coast Repertory is thrilled to bring it to a new generation of theatregoers.

    SCR’s production of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is directed by Kari Hayter. With a number of successful musical theatre productions under her belt—including last season’s Nate the Great at SCR—Hayter was a natural fit for the project and her production promises to be equal parts energy, humor and heart. Hayter is joined by music director Diane King Vann, who last appeared in SCR’s hit production of Once in 2017. Vann has a long history with SCR behind the scenes, as well: she was the theatre’s resident composer for many years and served as music director on a number of productions including Good and Marry Me a Little. (Fun fact: Vann is also the author of a children’s book called Mr. Prickle Bear!)

    Alexander’s design team includes Deborah Wicks La Puma (musical arrangements), Fred Kinney (scenic design), Elizabeth Cox (costume design), Andrew Schmedake (lighting design) and Jeff Polunas (sound design). The cast includes Austyn Myers, who makes his SCR debut in the role of Alexander; Janna Cardia, Robert Collins, Cristina Gerla and Mitchell Gerrard Johnson, who also make their SCR debuts; and Ricky Abilez and Monika Peña, both of whom return to SCR after appearing in recent productions at the theatre.

    Learn more and buy tickets to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

  • A Conversation with John-David Keller, Longtime Director of "A Christmas Carol"

    by 
    Beth Fhaner
     | Nov 01, 2019
    Jd Keller and Martha McFarland in Christmas Carol
    ​John-David Keller and Martha McFarland as Mr. & Mrs. Fezziwig in the 2006 production of A Christmas Carol.
    Hal Landon Jr. and Presley Coogan in A Christmas Carol
    Hal Landon Jr. and his granddaughter, Presley, Coogan in the 2018 production of A Christmas Carol.
    The Cratchit Family
    ​Daniel Blinkoff and Jennifer Parsons as Mr. & Mrs. Cratchit with the Cratchit Children in the 2004 production.

    When SCR’s beloved show A Christmas Carol begins its run on the Segerstrom Stage (Nov. 30-Dec. 24) this season, Orange County’s favorite holiday tradition will mark its 40th consecutive year. In addition to Hal Landon Jr. retiring from his role as Ebenezer Scrooge after the final 2019 performance, director John-David Keller will be stepping down from directing A Christmas Carol, after being at the helm for more than 1,​400 shows during the last four decades. We recently caught up with Keller to find out what he will miss the most about directing this timeless Dickens classic and his memories of the production.

    Since it’s the 40th year of A Christmas Carol this season, ​do past cast members​—the child actors from across four decades—ever spot you when you're out and about?

    My favorite story was just recently when a woman approached me in the lobby of the Modjeska [Playhouse] and said, “Mr. Keller, you don’t remember me.” And I said, “Oh no, who are you?” And she said, “I was your first Belinda Cratchit.” Belinda Cratchit is the little girl in the play. This woman said her daughters are now teenagers and she is 50; ​she was 10 when she did the show. And that same thing happened to me about three weeks prior to that, when a gentleman came up to me in a restaurant and said the same thing. He said, “I was your first Peter Cratchit.” It’s that kind of connection that this show has with all ages, and their parents bring them to it and I am very happy about that.

    What would you say to people who are coming to see the show for the first time?

    Enjoy it. That’s all the words they need. They are going to enjoy it. It’s the spirit of the show that is contagious. It starts from backstage to onstage to into the audience. There are times when we can hear the audience say the lines.

    What are your favorite things about directing this show?

    My favorite thing about directing the show is that, because I’ve been doing it for so long, my work is fairly easy [smiles broadly]. The people we work with more than anyone else are probably the children, and Hisa​ [Takakuwa, assistant director] ​and I do that. She’s wonderful. I will block them and make sure they know ​that once they are on the stage, other people will be telling them, ‘don’t do that,’ and they shouldn’t do it [laughs]. There was a period many years ago when Hal was in ​the very popular movie, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and the kids who were cast in the show knew that and they were dying to meet him.

    In all your years of directing A Christmas Carol, what stands out as the most memorable moments?

    Hal has been in the show for 40 years and his daughter has been in it, too. Last year, his grand-daughter was in the show as Tiny Tim: ​the moment she walked down and ​tugged on his coat-sleeve at the end of show, it was very emotional, it was wonderful. I think I have favorite moments from every time we do A Christmas Carol because the actors find other things to do, which is terrific, especially actors who have been doing it for a long time.

    The two people who have a very ​challenging time are the Cratchit parents [Daniel Blinkoff and Jennifer Parsons] because they are working directly with kids, and every year the kids are different. This stage mom and dad spend a great deal of time talking to them about family and about how important this is to them and how special this particular day is to them and the kids fall into it, but sometimes they are reluctant about trying to be silly or trying to be good actors. We just say, ‘Be yourself; we cast you because we think you are the best person for that role’ and that helps.

    In addition to directing the show, you also performed as Mr. Fezziwig.

    Yes, I was Mr. Fezziwig. But, I was also Mr. Scrooge once, very early on. Hal had been cast in another play and didn’t realize until it was very late that his show didn’t close until into the first weekend of A Christmas Carol. So, I went on as Scrooge for that first weekend. What I remember about that particular moment was that everybody in the show knows Hal is going to do a flip across the bed into his hat. Well, they were waiting and I stopped at the bed very abruptly and turned to the audience and threw up my hands [that I wasn’t going to do it] and they laughed. They thought ​it was just wonderful. It’s Hal’s signature move for the show and the audience knows it’s coming and they can’t wait. It’s very brave of him to do it. Hal says he has missed it twice, but I think he has missed it three times, but who cares after 40 years? I mean, who is counting?

    The other people I think who are also important to the show are The Cratchits because they represent another part of the story. It’s separate really from Scrooge. It’s about Bob Cratchit and his family. I used to tell the cast that in the scene where we find out that Tiny Tim is dead, sometimes the actor playing Bob Cratchit went to pieces and it was very appropriate. I mean, it was not staged; the actor just broke down. At first the kids were frightened by it, and I tell them not to be frightened. I said what would you do if someone was dead and you saw your dad crying, and one of the kids said they would put their arm around him, and I said, ‘Go do that.’

    Danny Blinkoff, who plays Bob Cratchit, is a major part of this show. He is in more scenes than any of the other actors here—other than Scrooge—and he has that responsibility​ along with Jennifer Parsons. They have a huge responsibility to make a family on that stage, and the kids all have a part that is memorable. It’s the part of A Christmas Carol that is the most sentimental and it has a great deal of love in that.

    This show has been such a huge part of your life for so long…

    Indeed! Last year was the first time in 39 years that I spent Christmas with my family. I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    What will you miss about it?

    Everything! There is nothing in this year’s production that is going to be new. In general, it’s a gorgeous show to look at. It moves very quickly, the audience loves it. I would say that 60% of the audience who comes to see the show has seen it before. And the proof is this woman who said her two children were in it and Hal Landon’s granddaughter who came to be in the show. That’s a legacy right there that’s just amazing to me. I look forward to that, and I get to sit in the audience as much as I want.

    Rehearsing is always fun. There are certain traditions that always happen—like we always celebrate birthdays. ​And on our first music rehearsal on a Sunday, Richard Doyle [The Ghost of Christmas Past] has always brought bagels and cream cheese for everybody, and there is always a food table at rehearsals​, filled with things that are OK for the kids to have. I will miss it, but I think I am doing the right thing. There will be a new Scrooge and that will be interesting.

    Learn more about A Christmas Carol and buy tickets.

  • The Language of a Korean-American Family

    by 
    SCR Staff
     | Oct 31, 2019
    Jinn Kim and Sab Shimono
    Jinn S. Kim and Sab Shimono as ​father and son in Aubergine.

    Julia Cho’s Aubergine, which is currently playing on the Segerstrom Stage (through Nov. 16), centers around themes of family, food, love, loss and life. In Cho’s poetic tale of a dysfunctional father and son relationship, Ray is a Korean-American chef​—a career his father never really understood. Now that his father is in hospice, Ray returns home and learns to cook a dish that connects the two men in ways that words cannot.

    Playwright Cho admits that she speaks very little Korean, but she knew that having a Korean relative show up in the play would demand that the character speak his lines in Korean. Although Cho wrote those lines in English, she then found a translator who is fluent in both Korean and English, which allowed the play to reach a level that Cho wouldn’t have been able to get to on her own. As a poignant and powerful drama with elegantly written language, Aubergine is, indeed, a story to savor.

    Korean family names are unique and work quite differently than family names in English. Read the following articles to learn more about Korean family names and titles:

    Also, here’s an interesting article on 10 Korean words that have no English equivalent.

    Learn more about Aubergine and buy tickets.

  • Alexander & Australian Fun Facts

    by 
    SCR Staff
     | Oct 28, 2019
    Australia Map

    In the delightful musical Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Nov. 8-24, Argyros Stage), things just do not go Alexander’s way. From the moment he wakes up with gum in his hair, to his broken nightlight at bedtime, Alexander just can’t catch a break. Throw in a trip to the dentist, a copy machine mishap and lima beans for dinner, and it’s no wonder he wants to move to Australia!

    Since Alexander really loves the Land Down Under, we’ve gathered some fun facts about the country’s animals, culture, people and attractions.

    Australian Wildlife

    Koala

    ​​Koala

    • There are three times more sheep than people living in Australia.
    • Koalas, marsupials native to Australia, sleep for approximately 20 hours a day.
    • Australia has over 750 different reptile species. That’s more than any other country in the world.
    • The box jellyfish, found in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, is responsible for more deaths than snakes, sharks and saltwater crocodiles combined.
    • Tasmanian Devils have the strongest bite per body size of any mammal.
    • There are four different species of kangaroo in Australia, with the Red Kangaroo being the largest.
    • 17 of the world’s most poisonous snakes can be found in Australia.
    • Kangaroos are considered a national icon, with more than 40 million estimated throughout the country.
    • Australia has a larger population of camels than Egypt.

    Australian Cities & Landmarks

    Ayers Rock

    ​Uluru, or Ayers Rock

    • Australia is the driest of any continent on earth other than Antarctica.
    • Australia is the sixth largest country in the world in terms of land area.
    • The Great Barrier Reef is regarded as the world’s largest living organism, and is often listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
    • The Daintree Rainforest, found in tropical north Queensland, is the country’s largest.
    • The Aussie state of Tasmania has the world’s cleanest air.
    • Australia is home to the world’s largest cattle ranch.
    • Australia’s dingo fence is longer than the Great Wall of China.
    • Australia is the only continent in the world without an active volcano.
    • The termite mounds that can be found in Australia are the tallest animal-made structures on Earth.
    • Melbourne has the largest public tram system in the world. 
    • People who live in the city of Sydney, Australia, are called Sydney-siders.
    • The Gold Coast has the world’s largest canal system, which is larger than those of both Venice and Amsterdam combined.

    Australian People

    Aboriginal Man

    Aboriginal man.

    • Nearly half of all Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas and moved to Australia.
    • 90% of Australia’s population lives near the coast, due to the majority of the interior being a vast desert.
    • The average Australian will eat the equivalent of 18 full cows and 90 full sheep in his or her lifetime. 
    • After Athens, Melbourne has the world’s largest Greek population.
    • Australia’s Aboriginal people are estimated to have lived here for roughly 50,000 years, yet they now make up only 1.5% of the total population.

    More Facts about Australia

    Learn more about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and buy tickets.