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Every holiday season, there are countless stage versions of the Charles Dickens’ holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol.” This year, Lansing’s Riverwalk Theatre will present the story — but with a musical twist.
Riverwalk’s revamped production is adapted by director Tom Ferris, a board member for the theater and veteran of local theater scene. Ferris’s version attempts to add elements of humor and music to the introspective story.
“Over the years, I have seen many different versions of this story. Whether it was on stage or a film, with live actors or cartoons, I just always felt like people had a real connection to this tale,” Ferris said. “But I also always thought it needed a little something. The themes in the story can be so adult — it really made me wonder if there was something different we could do.”
One challenge facing many productions of “A Christmas Carol” is trying to make the story more family friendly for holiday audiences.
“Well I have never really thought that Charles Dickens wrote with much humor in mind,” Ferris said. “Sure, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his moral quandaries is a holiday classic, but I wondered, ‘What if Jacob Marley was a song and dance man? What if Tiny Tim put all of his emotions into a song?’”
This is not the first time Ferris has adapted Dickens’ holiday classic for the stage.
“When my son was attending grade school in Grand Ledge, the school was planning to do a holiday performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ The administration knew of my involvement with the Riverwalk Theatre and asked if I would help with the production,” Ferris said.
He jumped into the project with both feet, trying to make a school auditorium look like the streets of London and teaching students collections of Christmas songs for the performance.
“I knew I wanted to do something different, so we began to add scenes where children would be singing actual Christmas carols,” Ferris said. “We added dancing scenes, sight gags and pretty much anything to make the production a little more kid friendly.”
After the success of the school performance, Ferris began thinking about a full stage production of his adaptation.
“I had such a great time helping to put their show together, it was fun to work with my son and people were responding really well to the show,” Ferris said. “I knew Riverwalk would be having their season selection committee meetings soon, so I decided to pitch my idea for one of the holiday slots.”
Adding a musical element, Ferris said, added a degree of difficulty to casting the production.
“I figured it would take time to find performers that would fit exactly what we wanted,” Ferris said. “Thankfully, our auditions were packed. It ended up being rather difficult to decide on a final cast list. Everyone who auditioned did such an amazing job, but I feel like we have to best cast of individuals for what we wanted to do with the show.”
Ferris feels that “A Christmas Carol,” written over 170 years ago, still carries a message that is relevant today.
“When Dickens was writing at the beginning of the industrial revolution, there was a sense of responsibility,” Ferris said. “People needed to work together, to protect one another. This is something I would really wish to see brought back, especially now when there is so much turmoil in the world. We all deserve some joy this holiday season.”
“A Christmas Carol”
Riverwalk Theatre 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27; 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 28; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29; 7 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 4; 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 5 $8/$6 children 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700, riverwalktheatre.com