“A Christmas Carol” Returns to Open Stage of Harrisburg

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Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is my favorite Christmas story.

Whether it’s Muppets singing “There Goes Mr. Humbug” or Albert Finney’s take on Scrooge in “Scrooge,” I love them all.

For what it’s worth, “A Muppet Christmas Carol” is my favorite adaptation of the classic Christmas tale.

However, through all of my viewings, I had never seen the show live on stage.

That all changed last year when I saw Open Stage of Harrisburg’s “A Christmas Carol,” and it gave my family and me a new holiday tradition.

open stage of harrisburg a christmas carol

Open Stage has been performing “A Christmas Carol” in some fashion for 19 years.

The show started at Open Stage then moved to Whitaker Center briefly before taking a hiatus from a full production to perform staged readings.

Now, the show is back at Open Stage in downtown Harrisburg, and the house’s intimate setting puts you directly in the world of Dickens and his classic Christmas tale.

Grab your tickets »

“I love the small, non-traditional theatres,” said Karen Ruch, who plays the Ghost of Christmas Present. “It’s not a movie or someone sitting out in the dark. The artists are right there creating it in front of you, and for the actors, it’s about the audience’s reaction and experience and feeding off of that.”

Nick Hughes, who has played Scrooge for 19 years, said that the intimate setting of Open Stage is more of what Dickens would have had in mind for this story.

“It’s much more enjoyable doing this in an intimate setting rather than a large room where you’re divorced from the audience,” said Hughes.

A twist on the familiar

Each adaptation on the story takes its own liberties. Whether it’s with music, a cartoon, or making the story more modern like Bill Murray’s “Scrooged,” no two are identical.

The same is true with Open Stage’s production.

You can expect to see the usual characters in the Cratchits, Marley, and the three ghosts, but not all the ghosts might be what you’re expecting.

For example, the Ghost of Christmas Present, which usually is played by a large man, is performed by Karen Ruch who is in her third year of playing the role.

“I was so excited when Stuart Landon asked if I wanted to play this part three years ago because Christmas Present is this giant man in the Dickens’ story,” said Ruch. “The opportunity to be that happy, glowing spirit of Christmas makes me feel really good.”

Ruch’s take on Christmas Present is what you’d expect. She’s jovial, boisterous, and a bit of a smart ass towards Scrooge.

Another adaptation is how Open Stage creates the world of Scrooge. Open Stage’s space is limited, but they don’t let that hold them back.

Last year, I was amazed at how large they made their stage feel. The perfect example comes when Scrooge is collecting his debts on Christmas Eve through the streets of London.

While Scrooge walks through the bustling marketplace, the full cast takes over the stage and creates their own little world in a space that might be a bit larger than your bedroom. The interactions between characters and the choreography of the scene give the illusion that the stage has doubled in size.

When the play starts, you’re transported to London. The show happens all around you. You’re immersed in the story.

Spanning the years

Each year, the show goes through some changes. Actors and directors come and go, and one change for this year’s production is director Chris Gibson.

Gibson takes over for Stuart Landon, who directed the show for the past few years. He said the majority of the show stayed the same but with his own twist.

Gibson said when he took over, he wanted to bring in a little commedia dell’arte, one of the oldest forms of theatre, into the show.

“Commedia dell’arte deals a lot with mask work, physicalization, and clowning in the roles,” said Gibson.

One aspect that hasn’t changed in 19 years is Nick Hughes as Scrooge.

After you see the show, you’ll understand why Hughes has played Scrooge for so long. You couldn’t pick a better person to play this lead character, and he says he enjoys playing the cantankerous old miser part of the character more than the redeeming person Scrooge becomes in the end.

“I’ve seen it all,” said Hughes. “When we first started, it was a lot more traditional, but when Stuart Landon took over three years ago, the show became more active and modern with aspects like the flying bed.”

The flying bed is one aspect of the show that will stick with you. Scrooge and his ghostly companions saddle this contraption that whips, spins, and works its way around the stage all night, seemingly by magic.

“People always ask me how the bed works, and I won’t tell them,” said Hughes. “Then I give in and pull them close and tell them, it’s magic.”

Open Stage of Harrisburg’s “A Christmas Carol” runs Dec. 1-23. See website for curtain times and tickets.

Sara Bozich
Author: Sara Bozich

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