One of the staples of Christmas is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and two familiar faces at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts are helping to bring the musical version to the stage this December.
It’s a show performers Brett Frazier and Michael Pacholski are both very familiar with, personally and professionally.
Pacholski plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, “which is a whole lot of fun because I get to embody the Christmas spirit and the joy of the world around us at this time of year - what it means to be giving and charitable. And teaching that lesson to (Ebenezer) Scrooge is really, really fun,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
He said he gets to see the joy amongst the Wagon Wheel cast right now as they’re putting together some large dance numbers and they’re having a blast in rehearsals.
“The fun thing for me, too, is Christmas Present is the most joyful but still gets to turn it around. Some of the lines are thrown right back into Scrooge’s face. We like to play it as the ghosts in the beginning are people he sees in the street. So, we get to hear the terrible things (Scrooge) says to all the people in town, and then in his dream, when we come as ghosts, ‘Are there no prisons?’ ‘Are there are no work houses?’ Right? So all of the ghosts are there to scare him, right? Just because it’s joyful doesn’t mean it isn’t to prove a point or teach a lesson,” Pacholski explained.
Brett Frazier plays Scrooge, a role he is playing for the third time, including once before at the Wagon Wheel in 2016.
“Obviously, everyone knows the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Ebenezer Scrooge and his journey from a miser who only cares about himself, doesn’t care for others, doesn’t think of others and that transformation that he has, which, while extreme in this story, is, I think, while Dickens was writing it was hoping that we would all see a little bit of ourselves in Ebenezer Scrooge and how Christmas is a time that can and should bring out those ideas of charity and looking out for one another. So, to play that journey on stage here is a lot of fun,” Frazier said.
Dickens’ novella was first published in 1843. Since then, it has been staged, filmed and animated countless times with productions featuring everyone from The Muppets and Mickey Mouse to Jim Carrey and Bill Murray.
The Wagon Wheel’s musical production of “A Christmas Carol” features music by Alan Menken (Disney’s “Beauty & The Beast,” “The Little Mermaid”) and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (“Ragtime,” “Seussical”).
For Frazier, he said the Wagon Wheel production seems really accessible to families and people of all ages.
“So, there’s that familiar storyline that we all enjoy of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ but there’s so much color and song and dance and activity and layers going on. And then, of course, at the Wagon Wheel, you’re never more than 10 rows away from the action, so you’re also so close to it, you’re almost a part of it,” he said.
When Frazier first saw “A Christmas Carol” at 6 years old, he saw it in a small theater that allowed him to be really close to the action on the stage.
“It was the first theater production I ever saw, and it made me fall in love with theater. And I remember the smells, and you were close enough you could tell the textures of the clothes and see the eyes of the actors. That’s the best part of coming to see the show at the Wagon Wheel, is you’re just so close you feel like you’re a part of it,” he said.
Pacholski said the Menken and Ahrens version of the story “is nonstop, from beginning to end, just fun music. With a lot of big dance numbers, beautiful costumes and just a lot of bright, smiling faces, even though we’re telling this ghost story.”
The story is still being told in the traditional year for it - 1848, the Old Victorian era, England.
The day of the interview, costume fitting was taking place for the actors. Pacholski said the moment you put on the costume, it helps the actors get into the time period and their characters.
He said the music is very upbeat. “Think the parade scene in ‘Aladdin’ comes to mind. Or if you liked ‘Newsies,’ as well, a lot of the music is that sort of upbeat, driving, fun and very family friendly.”
Frazier said the show’s music is more Disney than string quartets and somber that people might associate the Victorian era with. “It’s fun,” he said. “... I would say it’s more of that sort of Disney, modern style.”
Pacholski said “A Christmas Carol” has lasted as long as it has because of the messages in it.
“It’s a timeless story or else we would not still be telling it and we wouldn’t have so many iterations of it,” he said. “And I want to say, my favorite part is when the Ghost of Christmas Future comes out because Scrooge starts out in the story as just this old miser, doesn’t care about anyone. And, as he starts to see the world around him that he’s been closed off to, and then you get to Future, and his whole world shifts. And then right after it, when he wakes up, the joy of Christmas morning. It’s just such a happy moment.”
Frazier added that was his favorite moment to play in the show. “When I was little, I remember there was a guy whose name was Don Robinson. He played it in ‘A Christmas Carol’ versions that I would see - and he’s passed away long ago - and I remember him, the joy. All of a sudden this guy who had been drudging around the stage, grumpy, angry, whatever - and then all of a sudden ...”
“There’s this childlike enthusiasm moment,” Pacholski finished.
“And so, when I get to play that same moment, that emotional change, to me that is just so freeing and I remember what it was like to see as a kid, and I hope that’s some of what we deliver to families coming to see it,” Frazier stated.
Dates for “A Christmas Carol, the Musical” at the Wagon Wheel are Dec. 1-3, 8-10 and 15-17. Tickets and more information can be purchased through the box office, by phone at 574-267-8041 or online through the website at wagonwheelcenter.org/event/a-christmas-carol.