Theatre in the Park’s gala 38th-annual production of TIP executive and artistic director Ira David Wood III’s zany musical-comedy version of A Christmas Carol, which will run Dec. 6-9, 11, and 12 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and Dec. 15 and 16 in the Durham Performing Arts Center, will include timely topical references and the same old theatrical hocus-pocus and hilariously hokey vaudeville touches — not to mention a virtuoso performance by Wood as Ebenezer Scrooge.
That malicious old miser was immortalized by English novelist Charles Dickens (1812-70), in his perennially popular 1843 Christmas story, which chronicles Scrooge’s surprising redemption, after four ghostly visitations, one Christmas Eve long ago.
“It’s hard to believe that this is the 30th year of A Christmas Carol in Raleigh,” admitted TIP executive and artistic director David Wood in a December 2004 interview with Triangle Theater Review. “It’s extremely gratifying to think that people still return to see our own adaptation year after year. It is, first of all, a great tribute to Mr. Charles Dickens and his incredible book. (I believe folks are surprised at how many lines in the show actually come directly from the book.)
“Secondly,” Wood said, “our musical version is a theatrical production that is truly ‘homegrown.’ All of it began right here [in Raleigh]! For 30 years, it has been the talent, dedication, and generosity of spirit provided by the volunteer cast that has truly worked the show’s special magic.”
He added, “I’m quite proud of what the production has managed to accomplish in three decades. We’ve toured to France and England and have continued to attract huge crowds locally.”
That’s not bad for a holiday show by a local community theater (formerly Raleigh Children’s Theatre) that in 1974 specialized in outdoor productions of Shakespeare (Hamlet and Richard III) before occupying the old N.C. National Guard Armory in Pullen Park, which the Raleigh City Council rechristened the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre on Oct. 5, 2004.
The Enfield, NC native, who was educated at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, told Triangle Theater Review in 2004, “For 20 years, we have toured to Columbia, S.C. to help raise funds for the Babcock Center and their remarkable work for the mentally handicapped. The production has been something of a springboard in helping to launch more than a few successful show business careers. We’re also now listed as one of the ‘Top Twenty Events in the Southeast’ by the Southeast Tourism Society.
“The N&O has cited us as being ‘one of the most successful shows in North Carolina theater history.’ Most notably, the production has been seen by members of the Dickens family, and they’ve given it their enthusiastic endorsement. That has meant a great deal to all of us,” said Wood.
At Christmastime 1974, David Wood was only 27 — tall, thin, matinee-idol handsome, and best known for his charismatic Hamlet — when he first donned a fright wig, a big beak of a false nose, and even bigger top hat, and slumped his shoulders and bowed his skinny legs to adopt a mincing gait to play that misanthropic old skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge. Wood expertly mixed musical theater with vintage vaudeville routines to create what one local critic once, long ago, called the biggest one-man show in Triangle theater history. Yet, over the last three decades, Wood has fleshed out the show’s supporting roles — to create more substantial comic foils for Scrooge to fulminate against — and he has built up the other performers’ musical numbers.
A Christmas Carol alumni include Michael C. Hall, Lauren Kennedy, Terrence Mann, Frankie Muniz, Patrick Stogner, Evan Rachel Wood, Ira David Wood IV, and Eric Woodall.
“We use huge doses of humor in an attempt to make the show more accessible to young and old alike,” claimed David Wood. “I’ve learned that you can ‘act’ a serious play, but with comedy … well, it’s either funny or it isn’t. You simply can’t fake that. Humor is also a wonderful common denominator that enables our adaptation to amplify the intent of the original work. In this musical comedy approach, when those quiet and special moments are appropriately dealt with, they stand out and take on even deeper resonance. We have remained true to the story’s basic message while tweaking it a bit in the process. Whatever the combination, it’s worked — and happily so!”
For going on three generations now, A Christmas Carol has been a holiday tradition in two state capitals: Raleigh and Columbia, SC. (Indeed, many Triangle theatergoers still do not feel that the Christmas season is complete without a trip to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium to see what timely topical references David Wood has added to the latest edition of the show.) A Christmas Carol also became an enormous cash cow, whose annual proceeds funded less-bankable shows that Theatre in the Park might not otherwise have been able to produce.
In 2012, David Wood will direct and star in the show for the 37th time. Open-heart surgery forced him to miss the 2010 production, but his son Ira Wood donned Scrooge’s makeup and 19th century outfits and filled in admirably, as he and sister Evan Rachel Wood co-directed that the 36th installment of A Christmas Carol.
David Wood said, “The [scenic designer Mark Pirolo’s] sets and backdrops … are absolutely miraculous! They have added a professional sheen to the entire show that will make its impact even more indelible. [His] contributions have made a tremendous impact on the quality of the overall presentation of the work.”
“Performing the role of Scrooge has become a lot like playing in a Super Bowl game!” confessed David Wood. “It takes an enormous amount of preparation and practice prior to the big day. Once you’re on the field, you give it everything you possibly can muster. I must admit that the rest during ‘half time’ is now greatly anticipated and appreciated. After all, I’m still doing a role that was initially created by and for a man in his twenties. With each passing year, it’s gratifying to know that I can still hit the mark.”
Wood added, “It is such a pleasure to work with so many people who have chosen to come back to the show. Some of the children who were in the show years ago are performing this year as adults — with ‘Tiny Tims’ of their own. It’s a sincerely joyous feeling to know they want to renew their ties to the production while expanding our ‘ACC Family’ at the same time. We’re 30 years older and still as young at heart as ever!
“Initially,” Wood said, “nobody told us that what we were doing was impossible — so we just forged ahead and made it happen. When you consider the fact that this is ‘amateur’ production presented by a community theater relying upon the dedication and talent of its volunteer base, the accomplishments we’ve made in three decades are simply remarkable. On the other hand, it merely underscores the old adage: ‘When love and talent combine together, you can expect a miracle!'”
In 2004, Wood said, “The laughter and tears you see onstage are quite real. After all, the holidays have a great deal to do with renewed feelings and emotions. This fact brings both audience and cast together in a veritable love feast. We know we can’t expect the audience to experience their own transformation unless and until those of us in the cast experience it first. We access our own feelings, build upon that foundation and send it out over the footlights. It’s a challenge to do any show that way, but our remarkable casts have never disappointed.
“Finally,” Wood said, “you can’t do it unless the audience is there to see it, share in the experience, and back you up. I will be forever grateful to the thousands of people who continue to support us each year. When your muscles ache and your throat is raw and you don’t know where the energy is going to come from to do one more show — the curtain goes up, you walk onstage — and feel that wave of pure love roll over your entire being — and the magic is suddenly there! E.G. Masters called it ‘a little bit of the ether reserved for God himself.’ There’s just no other way to describe it.
“When I die,” said David Wood, “my obit will probably simply say ‘He was Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.’ Considering all that declaration now infers, I’ll be quite content with the summarization.”
Theatre in the Park presents A CHRISTMAS CAROL, starring Ira David Wood III as Scrooge, at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 8, 2 p.m. Dec. 9, and 7 p.m. Dec. 11 and 12 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601; and at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 and 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 16 in the Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $30-$80 (plus fees).
Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919-996-8700.
DPAC Box Office: 919/680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster for Raleigh: http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/1003849.
Ticketmaster for Durham: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1003849.
SHOW: Raleigh: http://theatreinthepark.com/shows/acc.php#.UMDB1azhfTo and Durham: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/a-christmas-carol. PRESENTER: http://theatreinthepark.com/.
Raleigh: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/venue/memorial-auditorium (directions: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/directions and parking: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/parking).
Durham: http://www.dpacnc.com/ (directions: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/getting_here and parking: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/parking_guide.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11th, performance.
The Musical: http://web.me.com/idw3/A_CHRISTMAS_CAROL/OVERVIEW.html (official website).
Ira David Wood III: https://www.facebook.com/iradavidwood (Facebook), http://www.theatreinthepark.com/theatre_staff_board.html (Theatre in the Park) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_David_Wood_III (Wikipedia).
A Christmas Carol (background): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Carol (Wikipedia).
A Christmas Carol (e-text): http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/46 (Project Gutenberg).
Charles Dickens: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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