My history with A Christmas Carol and the character of Ebenezer Scrooge goes back a long way. In fact, my first professional acting job was as Tiny Tim in a televised production of the classic Charles Dickens tale.
Over the years I have born witness to many incarnations of A Christmas Carol – ranging from school productions to Hollywood blockbuster movies.
I’ve seen world class stars of the stage breath life into the classic lines. And in terms of film and television adaptations, I’ve seen my fair share there as well. From the 1951 Scrooge starring Alistair Sim to the numerous versions that reimagine the story like Bill Murray’s 1988 Scrooged, I have witnessed a plethora of talented actors take on the story.
Indeed, a lot of very capable actors have donned the bedclothes of Ebenezer Scrooge and journeyed with the Ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Patrick Stewart, George C. Scott, Tim Curry, and Kelsey Grammar have all played Scrooge in versions of A Christmas Carol.
Other actors have done wonders with the character in alternate titles. Albert Finney sang his heart out in the 1970 musical Scrooge and Jim Backus voiced the character in the delightful 1962 animated special Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol.
Of all the renditions of A Christmas Carol, I have to admit my favorite is 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol starring Michael Caine as Scrooge alongside Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit and Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens.
Caine is a two-time Academy Award winner and does a masterful job playing opposite a host of silly creatures. There is no doubt he is a great Scrooge.
Yet while he is one of the bests to play the role and he had the considerable name value to help make the film a hit, Michael Caine is not at the top of my list when it comes to the men who would be Scrooge.
CREAM OF THE CROP
After all my travels through time and space viewing films, television movies, and stage productions, the honor of “Best Scrooge” falls upon Chicago actor Steve Connell. Although Connell may not be a household name on a national or worldwide basis, perhaps he should be – at least when it comes to the character of Scrooge.
So, what is it that makes a good Scrooge? What makes Connell stand out?
As much as any other classic story, the success of A Christmas Carol rests on the change of heart of its main character. For the story to succeed, Scrooge must go from bitter and alone with a cold heart to vibrant and alive with a heart filled with love. It is the classic story arch.
Scrooge starts off the tale a man with no friends. The only family he has, his nephew Fred, he pushes away and closes his heart to. His employees are cogs in a wheel. The people on the street are mere inconveniences.
He is a deeply dark and troubled man. I would not go so far as to say his heart is filled with hate, but it certainly is sculpted by pain. His heart, like his life, is empty and cold.
The payoff of the story is that in the end, Scrooge has a change of heart. Like the title character in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Scrooge finds his empty heart fill with love for his fellow man.
That means the actor playing Scrooge must not only be convincing as a nasty old man, but he must also be able to light up the room with his smile and spirit in the final scenes.
CASTING AGAINST TYPE
In real life, Steve Connell is nothing like Scrooge. He is one of the nicest people in the theater community. He is active in his church, raises money for charity, and donates his time and resources to help others.
Connell is one of those grand souls who has a perpetual smile indicative of his love of life and his fellow man. Yet, as the consummate actor, when he is onstage, he can hide his good nature behind a scowl and dark and cloudy disposition. His angular face and lanky build add to the illusion.
A former teacher, Connell is particularly articulate. His crisp pronunciation and expressive delivery add untold levels to his characterization.
And at the end of the story, Connell is masterful in showing Scrooge’s change of heart. Letting his natural good nature shine through, Connell is able to fill any theater with his smile. He will melt your heart.
With the exception of during the COVID-19 pandemic, Connell has lit up holiday season as Scrooge in productions throughout the Chicago area on an annual basis. It is a performance that people will travel to experience because it is that good.
Currently, Connell can be seen in A Christmas Carol at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre through December 24. Metropolis is located in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights – the possible future home of the Chicago Bears – and is easily accessible from the city and suburbs via car or public transportation.
The cast of the Metropolis musical production of A Christmas Carol also includes Annie Beaubien, Marcellus Burt, Aaron Michael Conners, Genevieve Corkery, Madeline Curtin, Daniel Dauphin, Kalea Edgar, Maura Fawley, Rhea Greer, Jim Heatherly, Jill Iverson, Kate Kuen, Jim LaPietra, Max McNeal Martin, Eve Moyar, Danielle Spence, David Tibble, Olivia Tibble, Lanah Vurnakes, Mason C. Wang, and Brenden Zwiebel. Members of the youth ensemble include Colin Goodman, Molly Hamada, Giselle Loredo, Brennan Monaghan, Miles Oliver Wendt, and Katie Witt.
An American Sign Language performance will be Thursday, December 8, 2022 (interpreting services are provided by 5 Star Interpreting) and a Sensory Friendly performance will be Sunday, December 18, 2022 (sensory consultation provided by A Squared Arts).
This adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol is filled with warmth, humor, redemption, music, and holiday cheer. Directed by Robin M. Hughes, the Metropolis mounting is enjoyable to ages five and up.
If you are looking to experience A Christmas Carol the way it should be done, make plans to enjoy Steve Connell’s Scrooge at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre through December 24. For tickets contact the box office at (847) 577-2121 or visit www.MetropolisArts.com. For additional information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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This year, I had the great pleasure of appearing in the hilarious Paul Rudnick comedy I Hate Hamlet for Elgin Theatre Company in the greater Chicago area. To our great honor, I Hate Hamlet has been nominated for seven prizes in the 2022 Broadway World Chicago Theatre Awards:
- Best Direction of a Play – Regina Belt-Daniels
- Best Ensemble Performance
- Best Play
- Best Performer in a Play – Rikki Lee Travolta
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – Travis Greuel
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – David Gasior
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – Trace Gamache
If you want to voice your support for the Elgin Theatre Company production of I Hate Hamlet, you can cast your vote at: https://www.broadwayworld.com/chicago/voteregion.cfm