In a time when people seem more fragmented and isolated than ever before, maybe it’s time to take a lesson from Ebenezer Scrooge.
Literature’s most infamous miser-turned-celebrant still has a lot to teach us about being good to one another, said Kathy Phipps, director of the Agape Performing Arts Company.
“Lately, it’s occurred to me just how isolated people have gotten in our culture, and Scrooge is a character who became very isolated and angry,” she said. “Being in a play brings people together, and going to see a play brings people together. So maybe this will remind people just how important community is.”
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More than 50 children from throughout Johnson County and Indianapolis will help bring Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol” to live on stage. “Scrooge! The Musical” opens tonight at McGowan Hall in downtown Indianapolis.
Actors, stage crew and parent volunteers have been working since August on the performance. They hope to use the beloved story of Scrooge and his transformation to impact people’s lives, just in time for the start of the holiday season.
“I love the opportunity to work with kids of all ages and abilities and backgrounds. It’s really special for everyone to come together for a show and give a message that’s so powerful,” said Audrey Scrogham, 18, who plays Isabel and is the assistant musical director for the production.
Agape Performing Arts Company was founded in early 2016 at Our Lady of the Greenwood Catholic Church. The goal is to create a community where all performers are valued because they are children of God, and to help performers grow in confidence and character.
“Agape” is a Latin term for unconditional, sacrificial love, and that speaks to the foundation of the theater program’s mission.
This will be the fourth performance for the theater troupe. The company had its debut performance in June 2016, staging the children’s version of “Into the Woods.”
An Americana-tinged musical show “Sing Down the Moon” in December challenged the troupe with a different style and tone of performance, and in the spring, they staged one of theater’s greatest musicals, “Les Misérables.”
Phipps has directed versions of “Scrooge” in the past with other theater groups. The show combines a story that everyone knows with exciting music and choreography.
“There’s something very beautiful about enjoying a theater performance together,” Phipps said. “I’m hoping that maybe we can introduce some families to live theater who otherwise may not have gone had we chosen a less popular show.”
In addition to playing Isabel, Scrogham serves as the assistant music director for the performance.
She called it one of the hardest scores she’s had to work with, but marveled at how the music invigorates the familiar story that everyone knows.
“When I think of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ I don’t think of all of the fun, huge musical numbers we have in the show. So it’s been cool to show people those and have them be surprised,” she said.
Of course, performing such a beloved and well-known story can have its challenges as well. The Agape actors and crew are tasked with being faithful to the plot that everyone knows, while also being fresh and breathing new life into the musical, Phipps said.
“We want to tell the story in a way that touches people’s hearts. But the story is so beautiful and well crafted that all we need to do is allow Dickens’ words and characters to come to life,” she said.
For the actors, that has been one of the most exciting aspects of doing “Scrooge.”
“It’s a little intimidating, but really exciting. I love bringing any story to life, and bringing a story to life that people are familiar with adds a different element,” Scrogham said. “But it’s really fun. You have twists in the story or deeper explorations of the characters than some people are familiar with.”
Scrogham approached the role of Isabel, Scrooge’s one-time love interest, trying to balance the character’s love with her strength in walking away from their relationship.
Even though the character does not spend much time on stage, the audience gets to see a full transformation in Isabel.
“She’s head-over-heels for young Ebenezer, and you see their love blossom over the course of about three minutes, before things take a sad turn,” Scrogham said. “Where she realizes that he does not really love her anymore is one of the biggest turning points for her character, because she’s a strong character but she’s also heartbroken.”
Visually, the performance has to recreate 19th-century London. Phipps designed both the scenery and the costumes, and the parents have volunteered to help paint Victorian street scenes and sew hoop-skirts, top hats and suits.
The goal from the start was to have a very historically accurate design to the musical, Phipps said.
For the actors, that required transporting themselves into the Victorian era.
Noah Fields is playing Tom Jenkins, one of Scrooge’s clients. The 17-year-old southside Indianapolis resident was able to infuse his scenes with some comic relief.
“I try to think about what Tom might be realistically dealing with in time period. Because he is debt to Mr. Scrooge, he’s obviously very poor. I imagine he’s lower-class, trying to support his family,” Fields said. “So I think of the character as a person who uses humor to forget about some of the things he’s struggling with.”
Clayton Mutchman, 17, of the Center Grove area, found the challenge in playing Bob Cratchit to be just the opposite. Normally cast in comedic roles, this was an opportunity to be more serious.
“Having seen the movie, you get that idea of the character. He’s lively and upbeat, because he’s trying to support his family, but deep down he’s concerned about how they’re going to get by,” Mutchman said. “It’s deeper than what’s on the surface.”
Those involved in the performance hope that the different aspects of the story and the musical come together to encapsulate the spirit of Christmas for people, Phipps said.
“I think we’ve all been touched by the story, because if we’re willing to admit it, there’s a little Scrooge in each of us,” she said. “We sometimes get so focused on our careers or our lives that we stop seeing the people around us as people.”
“Scrooge: The Musical”
- Today: 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday: 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
- Sunday: 4:30 p.m.
- Nov. 10: 7:30 p.m.
- Nov. 11: 7:30 p.m.
- Nov. 12: 3:30 p.m.
Where: McGowan Hall, 1305 N. Delaware St., Indianapolis
Tickets: $4 to $8 balcony, $5 to $10 floor, $15 VIP