SALT LAKE CITY — He is a miserable, penny-pinching misanthrope who had to be bullied by ghosts into gaining a conscience. Yet with Ebenezer Scrooge Charles Dickens created a beloved and enduring character.
“Scrooge’s transformation is perhaps the most dramatic in literature,” says Jamie Jackson. “He literally goes from A to Z in the course of one night. Scrooge was very closed to compassion and it takes supernatural beings, in his case a series of three ghosts, to go through his intense makeover.”
Jackson has been able to take a personal view of the old miser and his redemption to kindness and selflessness as he has prepared to take on the role of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol: the Musical” on the Pioneer Theatre Company stage.
Karen Azenberg, Pioneer Theatre’s artistic director at the helm of the production, adds that Scrooge has made an undeniably strong contribution to the spirit of goodwill that pervades the season.
“Prior to the Dickens story, the idea of charitable giving connected to the holidays and thinking of others was not as prevalent and ‘A Christmas Carol’ brought that to the forefront,” says Azenberg. “Even in this day and age we need to be reminded to give of ourselves — not just at this time of year but all year long.”
The musical adaptation of Dickens’ novella, with music by Alan Menken (“The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast”) and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (“Ragtime,” “Seussical”), has been a hit at Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theatre for 10 holiday seasons. It’s also become as much as a New York tradition as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and sitting on Santa’s lap in Macy’s.
When Azenberg choreographed “A Christmas Carol: the Musical” at Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 2008, she was “completely seduced by it. I found it charming, entertaining and true to the Dickens novel.
“This version is so tight, and it has the added advantage of exploiting the different musical genres, so that each production number is a different style,” she explains. “This gives the audience a different taste every time something happens on stage and gives my cast this wonderful opportunity to not only play all these different parts but to work in different genres every five minutes practically. And this score is really good.”
Jackson recognizes that Scrooge is “an iconic role. The Dickens character has become so famous that his name has been added to popular culture as a word to indicate someone as a miser.” It’s a challenge to play Scrooge but he is anxious to give the role a “fresh take as the audience accompanies him on his journey.”
A popular New York standup comic, Jackson has played the lead role in the national tour of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and performed off-Broadway in “The 39 Steps.” With his wife, composer SoHee Youn, Jackson has written several musicals, including “I Spy a Spy!” which in February 2013 will be staged in a New York City workshop production.
Kevin Earley plays Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s overworked clerk who retains his goodness despite his meager earnings.
“Bob Cratchit is really just like any other man struggling with his family, but through Tiny Tim and the rest of his family he is able to see that there is much good in the world. Everyone needs that, someone to help make them see that there is hope and joy and love in the world.”
He adds, “Anyone you meet can surprise you if you don’t prejudge them. And that new relationship can completely change your view on life.”
On Broadway, Earley created the Ernest Defarge character in “A Tale of Two Cities” and off-Broadway, he opened “Death Takes a Holiday” in the lead role of Death. His other Broadway credits include “Les Misérables” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
“A Christmas Carol: the Musical” has brought great personal satisfaction to Azenberg as the show’s director and choreographer.
“This has been a really great opportunity for me to assemble this group of performers, many of whom I knew before, and bring them here to my new home and my new home theater at the same time and in the same place to do this great, fun piece,” she says. “It’s cool to walk into the rehearsal room with all these tremendously talented people who are so enthusiastic and excited to be a part of this project.”
In her collaborations since joining Pioneer Theatre last May, Azenberg has created a strong artistic community. The joy of being part of a vibrant community was seen in the previous production of “In the Heights.”
“And to some extent this will carry over to ‘Clybourne Park’ certainly and even into ‘Les Miserables,’ ” she says. “The shows are about community and how your family and your community can in certain cases intertwine themselves.”
As part of its production of “A Christmas Carol: the Musical,” Pioneer Theatre is asking patrons to bring nonperishable food items to the theater lobby to be donated to the Utah Food Bank. For each pound of food donated, Wells Fargo will donate $1 to the charitable organization, up to $10,000.
If you go
What: “A Christmas Carol: the Musical”
Where: Pioneer Theatre Company
When: Nov. 30-Dec. 15
How much: $38-$59 in advance or $5 more day of show, with half-price tickets for children over age 5 through grade 12 on Mondays and Tuesdays
Tickets: 801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org