DCPA's 'A Christmas Carol' undergoes its own rebirth

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Sam Gregory as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

Denver is getting its first chance to meet Sam Gregory as the miserly Scrooge in its 24th seasonal staging of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ opening Nov. 25. 

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the world’s most beloved story of seasonal spiritual reawakening. And now, in its 24th staging at the Denver Center, the production itself is undergoing its own kind of renewal. The beloved holiday tradition has a new director and star this year: Denver newcomer Melissa Rain Anderson and longtime company favorite Sam Gregory playing Scrooge.

“I think there is something addictive about the journey of A Christmas Carol every year,” said Anderson. “That sense of joy and wonder and getting re-birthed every year is pretty special.”

And if the Theatre Company’s most popular annual offering is not getting fully re-birthed, it is certainly getting a re-boot. Audiences again will be treated to the familiar adaptation by Richard Hellesen with music by David de Berry, and many of the DCPA’s homegrown scenic and technical elements will be largely unchanged.

Melissa Rain Anderson. A Christmas Carol. “Absolutely we want to pay homage to what has come before, because obviously it’s been a huge success,” said Anderson, who thinks of this production as one she is adopting, not reinventing. Still, the newness of this staging will be as evident as the man barking out the old man’s unhappy humbuggery.

Gregory, who has more than 40 Theatre Company credits to his name, will become only the eighth actor to play Scrooge since the Denver Center’s nearly annual tradition began in 1990. Gregory’s task is merely to replace a fellow actor he calls irreplaceable: Philip Pleasants.

“Taking over Scrooge from somebody like Phil is a monumental task that I would never wish on anyone because he was such a master at it,” Gregory said. “What I so very much appreciated in his performance was how within 10 minutes you could hear little children in the audience giggling away at the stuff he was doing. Phil was able to present this mean old curmudgeon and yet, right away, the children could spot his good heart.”

Gregory said following Pleasants feels a little like Trevor Siemien following legendary Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. But Anderson and Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson both say he’s up to the task.

“Sam is a masterfully comic actor who can also turn scary and scared at any moment,” Thompson said. “He has a gift for the language and dialects of England — whether it’s Dickens or Shakespeare. Besides that, Sam brings great heart to his acting, making him a beloved actor in the Denver theatre scene. I’m excited to see his Scrooge.”

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Anderson sees in Gregory the opportunity for this A Christmas Carol to make an even greater emotional impact on audiences, simply given the actuarial differences between Pleasants, who is 79, and Gregory, who is 53. Gregory initially worried he might actually be too young for the role, until his research turned up that while Dickens never specifies the old man’s age, he plants clues that suggest Scrooge is only 54 years old.

“Sam is really the perfect age to be playing Scrooge because he has a significant amount of time left,” Anderson said. “His Scrooge lives through this beautiful redemption — and then how wonderful it will be for us to consider that this Scrooge still has 20 or more years left to give all his money away. And what a gift for Scrooge to gain his family back into his life and to open his arms to Bob Cratchit again while he still has so much time to do good? This Scrooge will change lives for many years after our story ends.”

Sam Gregory as Bob Cratchit in 2008. Anderson and Gregory both have deep bloodlines with the Hellesen adaptation of A Christmas Carol. As an actor, Anderson has performed in it four times around the country. Gregory has previously played Bob Cratchit and six other roles. Anderson thinks it’s probably better for her that the actor playing Scrooge is changing at the same time she is becoming the first new director of this annual production in Denver since 2004.

“I think it’s great that we are shaking everything up at the same time rather than in bits and pieces,” she said.

For his part, Gregory isn’t aiming to simply give audiences a younger version of Pleasants’ Scrooge. How could he? “I can’t roll my R’s the way Phil can,” he joked.

“I think we want to focus more on the fact that this is really an incredible play about redemption and that is the reason it stands the test of time,” he said. “This play is about how anyone can be redeemed and can change and can become a better human being.”

But getting there won’t be easy. And shouldn’t be.

“The Scrooge we meet is hardened and calcified,” Gregory said. “He doesn’t turn on the heat because he has no heat inside of him. That’s why poor Bob is freezing. Scrooge isn’t cold because he has ice-water in his veins. I’d like to try it so that we see him thaw — and come to life.”

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

(Photo above right: Sam Gregory has played seven different characters in DCPA stagings of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ including Bob Cratchit in 2008. Photo by Terry Shapiro.)

A Christmas Carol: Ticket information
A Christmas CarolAt a glance: Based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel, this joyous and opulent musical adaptation traces money-hoarding skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge’s triumphant overnight journey to redemption. A Christmas Carol illuminates the meaning of the holiday season in a way that has resonated for generations.

Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
By Charles Dickens
Adapted for the stage by Richard Hellesen
Music by David de Berry
Directed by Melissa Rain Anderson
Nov. 25-Dec. 24
Stage Theatre
ASL Interpreted and Audio-Described Performance: 1:30 p.m. Dec 11
Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

Selected previous NewsCenter coverage of A Christmas Carol
Cast lists: A Christmas Carol, The SantaLand Diaries begin anew
Video: Leslie O’Carroll performs A Christmas Carol in five minutes
Photos, video: Philip Pleasants takes final bow as Scrooge

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