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.
2004: Art Koustik as Joe, whom he has portrayed since the beginning and Madison Dunaway as a Scavenger.
1992: Howard Shangraw, who played Scrooge's nephew, Fred, through 2006, with Scrooge.
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.
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, 219 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:
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- 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.