“A Christmas Carol” plays Dec. 13-17 at Orcas Center
— by Margie Doyle —
“A Christmas Carol,” with Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come, captivated Jim Bredouw as a nine-year-old.
He’s probably seen every film version of it; his reincarnation of it, in collaboration with Deborah Sparks, first saw life on the stage of Orcas Center as a fundraiser for The Funhouse in 1999. Since then Orcas Center has produced the Bredouw-Sparks version five additional times, the last time in 2014.
Now with Melinda Milligan as Director, and puppets by Bethany Marie, stage managed by Lynda Sanders, and sound mixing by Jake Perrine, Bredouw sat down with Orcas Issues to tell the story of an Orcas “Christmas Carol.”
“The story transformed me. The message of ‘A Christmas Carol’ has informed the way I’ve looked at giving and taking since I was very young and I think it’s safe to say The Funhouse wouldn’t exist without this story,” Bredouw says. Building the Funhouse was “a big adventure, and happened in great part due to Jeanne Beck, who was the adult in our relationship. I flew all over having fun and doing research, while she buckled down to help me make it a reality.”
“I think for the most part, we’re all ultimately serving ourselves, from Mother Teresa to Donald Trump. I generally find that giving just makes one feel good – pretty simple. There’s nothing inherently altruistic to it. And I think ‘A Christmas Carol’ shows the wisdom, beauty and efficiency of generosity as well as any story out there. We all end up at a zero sum gain, so we might as well give equally rather than take equally. It does require a small leap of faith, but I find it usually inspires someone to give back and even if that doesn’t occur and I get taken advantage of, I don’t generally regret it.” He immediately adds, ”though I certainly don’t live that message as much as I aspire to.”
“I think of it as trying to feed ‘Big Jim’ who’s happiest sharing and isn’t fixed on thoughts of payback, rather than ‘Little Jim’ who is jealous, greedy and wants to get credit for what he’s done, but I’d can’t deny that they both exist. I just do my best to keep the small dude in check.
” ‘A Christmas Carol’ also informed my sense of the value of money. Ever since I first saw the Reginald Owens version on TV as a kid, I’ve probably seen about 15 different versions and each time I am more reminded that money doesn’t bring joy nearly as much as kindness and being with loved ones.”
In creating his version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” Bredouw always wanted the work to speak for itself — to share rather than hoard money. He identifies most with Bob Cratchit, the much-abused, family-man clerk of Edwina Scrooge, even though he describes Cratchit as “having a more moderate bandwidth than Scrooge.” I’ve always been a huge family aficionado,” he says. “I’m mostly just a big kid myself,” he’s the first to admit.
Bredouw asked island resident and Hollywood producer Richard Donner to direct and John Aylward, Seattle and Los Angeles actor, to play Scrooge. Deborah Sparks, known more familiarly as “Sparks,” wanted to assist in producing, and when Donner declined, Sparks stepped in to direct.
The inspiration for the songs that tie this stage version of “A Christmas Carol” together come from three sources, Bredouw says:
- Sparks’ suggestions of where a song might “make” the scene; such as the opening song, “Christmas is Coming;” the Cratchit family’s song at their paltry Christmas “feast;” and the orphan’s song, “Something Sweet.”
- His own ideas of what would enhance a scene;
- The Mr. Magoo version of “A Christmas Carol.” (Bredouw reminds us of the song by boy Scrooge in that version, “I’m All Alone in the World,” as “exquisite” and is the reason he wouldn’t touch that scene musically.
Indeed those who don’t know Bredouw well may be impressed by what a consummate professional “softie” he is. “I cry at least twice in every performance of “Christmas Carol” — at the Cratchit’s graveyard scene and Scrooge’s ‘resurrection’ “gets me every time.”
Writing the songs originally took three days, where he sat down in his studio with a keyboard, and yet, he has “no idea where they came from.” He wept during the composition of the Cratchit’s song and laughed out loud as he wrote the Cockney thieves song. “I seemed a bit like a crazy person in there.”
Then Bredouw enlisted Martin Lund, who he’s been close friends with for 45 years, to arrange, orchestrate and conduct two of the songs and underscoring for a third scene. Much of the Seattle Symphony orchestra was enlisted.
Richie Moore, husband of Annie Moss Moore, did the sound design for that first “Christmas Carol.” He has since passed away, but Bredouw says, “As a fundraiser, that first performance was a success and I always think of Richie as a big part of the show and the essence of The Funhouse.
Sparks adapted the play from Charles Dickens’ work, and among his high praise for her work, Bredouw says, “What is so valuable about her adaptation is knowing which parts of the book to pick, as well as some original dialogue she wrote.”
Bredouw agreed to be musical director for this production of “A Christmas Carol” when asked by director Melinda Milligan. “We have very compatible sensibilities. Working with her is joyous and energizing, he says. He also has acknowledges the “thankless work” of Stage Manager Lynda Sanders — “She’s the consummate pro.” In addition, “the freshness that Bethany has brought to the ‘Ghost puppets’ is huge,” he says.
“Hearing those songs come to life again is a wonderful thing. Every time a new batch of 5- to 12-year-olds come up — talk about crying! I really love the nature of theater. Little kids who weren’t even born the first time it was performed playing with veteran Orcas actors like John Mazzarella and Tony Lee — and Tiny Tess is just as important as the Narrator! (Mazzarella’s character). There’s nothing else in life where it’s like that.”
He’s particularly savored the memories of island kids “aging in and out” of roles, including his own three kids, now in their 20s. He himself performed in an earlier Orcas “Christmas Carol” as the King of Thieves, describing himself as having no acting “chops” and being “fairly undirectable.” The best part of that role was having Xiaowen (Lily) Sky and Elli Blaine apply makeup to make me as ugly as possible.”
At rehearsal last week, he admitted through tears, “I’m such a sap!” as Tiny Tess proclaims the final lines, “God Bless Us, Every One!”
That’s the spirit, Jim, thank you.
Tickets for “A Christmas Carol” are available now for performances beginning Wednesday, Dec. 13, and running Dec. 14, 15 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $17, $13 for students, $2 off for Orcas Center members and $75 for dinner and a show available on December 15 only in the Madrona Room.
Tickets may be purchased now at www.orcascenter.org or by calling 360-376-2281 ext. 1 or visiting the Orcas Center Box Office open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 12-3 p.m. $5 subsidized tickets are available at the Box Office.