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A CHRISTMAS CAROL: Unwrapped!
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Welcome to A CHRISTMAS CAROL: Unwrapped, a new online interactive feature that you help us write!  Last week we asked you to e-mail questions to Weekly Spotlight, our weekly email newsletter,  about A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and we're so glad we did!  You have come up with some terrific questions about everything from what the wire is made of that helps Marley fly, to what the audition process was like, to what is the origin of the phrase "Bah, Humbug" (we loved that one!).

   
FOX25 MORNING NEWS GOES BEHIND THE SCENES
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For weeks we've been answering your questions about A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and now it's time to answer some of your questions on television!  On Thursday, December 13, 2007FOX Morning News anchor Kim Carrigan interviewed Scrooge and all the Ghosts.  She also learned how to play all the ghost roles- she walked on stilts, she flew in the air and so much more!  Get up close and personal with the cast of A CHRISTMAS CAROL- and watch to see if your question has been answered! CLICK HERE to view the 2 part story!

   
ABOUT THE GHOSTS
North Shore Music Theatre's production is called a Musical Ghost Story and in this edition of A CHRISTMAS CAROL:  Unwrapped, we actually spoke to the spirits!  In addition to questions for our ghostly cast members, many of you had questions for the littlest members of our cast.  We spoke with our young performers to find out if they think this really is a scary ghost story!

Now, let's chat with the ghosts!

Marley-Wide
 

No one can forget the character of Marley flying through the air.  Many of you had questions about Marley's makeup and flying technique.  Here's what Tom Staggs, who is playing Marley for the 9th year had to say about getting ready to fly!

  MarleyFly-WS
How much makeup does Marley use and how long does it take to apply?

Tom Staggs:  It takes quite a bit of make up and prosthetics to turn me into Marley.  It usually takes me one hour to apply it all!

Do you ever get nervous being strapped to wires above the stage?

Tom Staggs:  When I played Marley for the first time 9 years ago I didn't know what to expect.  What surprised me was how uncomfortable it was to be in the harness.  Technology over the years has helped and it's much more comfortable now.  I also had to learn to move while I was suspended in the air so it didn't look like I'm just hanging in mid-air.  It took me a few seasons to perfect that.  I think taking off and landing are the hardest parts of flying.  The whole experience is extremely taxing on my body.  I feel like I've run a few miles after each show because I use every muscle in my body while I'm in the air.  I must admit that I'm in better shape now than I was when I first played the role.

MarleyScrooge-Wide
 

Another unforgettable character is the Ghost of

  Present-Dvorsky
  George Dvorsky as The Ghost of Christmas Present in 2004
Christmas Present.  We talked with  Andrew Varela, who is making his debut this year as this spirit, about a few personal things!

How tall is the Ghost of Christmas Present with and without his stilts?

Andrew:  I am 6 feet tall and with the stilts I am 7 ½ feet tall.

How long did it take for you to become proficient on stilts?

Andrew:  It took me about a ½ hour to learn how to walk easily on the stilts.  They're extremely well made and designed specifically for professional theatrical use.  I guess you could say I didn't need "training stilts."

Is your chest hair real? (This is in reference to the Ghost's festive costume)

Andrew:  Yes!

 
ABOUT THE CHILDREN

And are the children in A CHRISTMAS CAROL afraid of Marley and the Ghosts?  You wanted to know and we found out:

  Future-Tomb
  The Ghost of Christmas Future in 2006
9 year old Andrew Murdock (Tiny Tim):  I'm not afraid of the ghosts but when I first started playing Tiny Tim 4 years ago I was afraid of the loud explosions during the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Future.

7 year old Michaela Murdock (Ignorance/Want):  I'm not afraid of Marley!

5 year old Maxwell Murdock (Ignorance/Want):  I love Marley!  I'm not afraid of him!

7 year old Zehava Younger (Ignorance/Want):  I used to be afraid of the Ghost of Christmas Future, but I'm not afraid anymore.

4 year old Zoey Bozarjian (Ignorance/Want):  I'm afraid of the Ghost that points his hand.

 
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A Christmas Carol (2006)
 

The cast of A CHRISTMAS CAROL includes 13 young local performers.  They range in age from 4 years old to 17 years old and they're from 7 local communities:  Beverly,

  04-Company
  A Christmas Carol (2004)
Danvers, Gloucester, Lynn, North Andover, North Reading and Tyngsborough.  All the young performers auditioned at North Shore Music Theatre for their role in the show.  Now that they're in the cast, you wanted to know how they learn their lines and do their homework.  Let's find out: 

Andrew Murdock (Tiny Tim):  When I first started playing Tiny Tim, I was 5 years old.  My mother would help me learn my lines by reading them out loud to me and then I would repeat them back to her.  Then I would add acting and say the lines again.  That's how I learned my lines.  As for homework, I'm in third grade and my teacher prepares packets for me that I take home.  My mom says I can only be in the show if I keep up with my homework.

Emily McComb (Belinda Cratchit):  I'm in the 5th grade and my teacher also puts together a packet for me to take home and work on.

 
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WEB EXCLUSIVE: MORE ABOUT TINY TIM
Where do you audition for Tiny Tim?  Do you usually get children locally?

NSMT auditions for Tiny Tim and all the roles played by children at North Shore Music Theatre.  All the children are from the local area. 

  timandbob
  Bob Cratchit (Benjamin Howes) and Tiny Tim (Andrew Murdock), A Christmas Carol (2006)

What age range do you look to play Tiny Tim?

Typically children between the ages of 5 and 10 are considered for the role of Tiny Tim.

How many children play the role of Tiny Tim each season?

Only one child plays the role during the run of the show.

What was Tiny Tim's actual diagnosis?

We had to do a little research on this question.  According to pediatric neurologist Donald Lewis, Tiny Tim may have had Renal Tubular Acidosis.  According to Lewis, Tiny Tim's small stature, malformed limbs, and periods of weakness are all possible consequences of the chemical imbalance caused by RTA. Among the evidence cited to support this theory is the fact that Tiny Tim's condition, while fatal in one scenario, is reversible when Scrooge pays for medical treatments, which in those times would likely have included sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate, which are alkaline agents that would neutralize the acid in Tiny Tim's blood.  

Who does Tiny Tim ask God to bless?

Tiny Tim asks God to bless Mr. Scrooge and everyone.

How many children does Bob Cratchit  have?

Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit have 4 children:  Tiny Tim, Belinda, Martha and Peter Cratchit

 
ABOUT DAVID COFFEE

Who had the most questions directed toward him?  Mr. Scrooge, of course!  The illustrious David Coffee is beginning his 16th year as Ebenezer Scrooge at NSMT.  A versatile actor, David has appeared in numerous NSMT productions and has worked all over the country! 

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To give you an idea of his vast professional experience, this is the bio for David Coffee that you will see in your Playbill for A CHRISTMAS CAROL:

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DAVID COFFEE (Ebenezer Scrooge) With NSMT: Crazy For You ‘07, ‘96, A Christmas Carol ‘92-'06, Cinderella ‘05, ‘06, Singin' in the Rain ‘06, ‘92, Camelot, Kiss Me, Kate, The Wizard of Oz, Joseph and the Amazing  Technicolor Dreamcoat, Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Will Rogers Follies, West Side Story ‘95, ‘03, La Cage aux Folles, The Music Man, 42nd Street, Phantom ‘92, ‘94,  Grand Hotel, Brigadoon, South Pacific, Evita, Good News! Elsewhere: David is honored to return for his 16th season at NSMT.  Earlier this season, he received critical praise for his portrayal of Bela Zangler in Crazy for You.  Other productions this year include: The Wizard of Oz (Kansas City Starlight, Atlanta's Theatre of the Stars and Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall), a new musical adaptation of Treasure Island (Casa Mañana Playhouse) and David starred as Capt. Andy in a concert version of Show Boat with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.  Next February, David will co-star in Greater Tuna for Oklahoma's Lyric Theatre.  The production will be part of the inaugural season of Oklahoma City's renovated Plaza Theatre. 

We recently sat down with David Coffee to find out what it's like to play Scrooge for a record 16 years.  Below are your questions!  Don't be a humbug, check out our conversation with David Coffee below!

How long has David Coffee played Scrooge, will he continue playing that role, and who played it before him?

David:  This is my 16th year playing Scrooge at NSMT, but I actually started playing Scrooge in 1978 at another theater and I did two tours as Scrooge in the 1980's.  I've been playing him for quite a while.  And, as long as they'll have me, I'll continue playing Scrooge here!  Also, Munson Hicks and Don Perkins played Scrooge at NSMT before me.

How do you stay excited about playing Scrooge after all these years?

David:  How could you not?!  The story touches me at every performance. 

 
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David Coffee with Todd Gross as Bob Cratchit in the 2003 production of A Christmas Carol.
 

Has the role become a part of you are you able to walk away from the character at the end of the run?

David:  I don't walk away from the character because it comes out of me as an actor.  It's me- I play it. My imagination is bringing up experiences that I've already had. As an actor, I can only play a role based on my own experiences and imagination.

  ScroogeWindow
What is your favorite scene as Scrooge?

David:  My favorite scene is what I call the ‘Awakening' scene.  It's when I wake up, throw open the windows and find out what day it is.  I realized that I haven't missed Christmas.  It's a wonderful moment in the show.

What motivated David to trek so far to keep performing at NSMT? (David lives in Texas!)

David:  I love being here.  The audiences are delightful and the staff is wonderful.  I love performing in-the-round, that's how I started performing in Texas. 

Have you ever forgotten a line?

David:  Yes, many times.  There are times I'll be in the middle of a line and I'll question myself about what I just said or about what comes next.  Sometimes I have forgotten where I was in the script!

Do you have any rituals/routines before going on stage?

David:  For this show, I have my pre-show prep timed out.  I start at 45 minutes before the show with my makeup.  I know what stage of the process I need to be at when the Stage Manager says it's a half hour before show.  If I'm not there, I try to speed things up so I'm where I need to be when she calls out the next timing deadline.  Actors are generally creatures of habit, and I'm no exception.

What do you love best about your role?

David:  Seeing the audience's reaction to the show and visiting with the audience in the theater and around town.

 
WEB EXCLUSIVE Q&A WITH DAVID COFFEE

Where does Ebenezer Scrooge live?

David:  London, England

Does Scrooge have any siblings?

David:  Yes, he had a sister named Fan.  We assume in our production that she died during childbirth.  She had a son named Fred.

What did Scrooge's father do for a living?

David:  The book and the script only mention Scrooge's father once, however, it is never revealed what he does for a living.

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Does David rehearse as much as the rest of the cast because he's been doing the role for so long?

David:  This year I came in 2 days after the rest of the cast. Typically the director likes to get the group numbers done first and then I'm added in.

How long does it take to get out of character after each performance and wind down?

David:  It's actually easy to wind down because Scrooge is really happy at the end of the show.  I don't want to get out of character because Scrooge is in such a good mood!

How long does it take to relearn your lines each year and are you able to improvise on stage?

David:  Once I read through the script, most of the lines come back to me and then I solidify my lines in rehearsal.  We do a bit of improve during rehearsal but then we make decisions because we don't want to stray from the script on stage. 

How long does it take to put on your Scrooge make up?

David:  It takes me about 45 minutes to put on my make up.

Do you have an understudy?

David: No.

ScroogeFuture
   
ABOUT THE SET AND SPECIAL EFFECTS

Thank you for all your questions!  With your help, we're not just ‘unwrapping' A CHRISTMAS CAROL, we're ripping the paper right off!  Many of you had questions about how things are done behind the scenes to make North Shore Music Theatre's ghost story as magical as possible, so for this edition we spoke with Lars Nelson, NSMT's Production Manager about the technical side of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  How do we make the snow?  See Lars' answers below!

 

Susan Marks and Katie Carr were among the readers who asked how the snow that falls during the production is made.  How does NSMT make it snow on stage? 

  • NSMT has a theatrical snow machine that uses a liquid soap solution to create the snow
  • Using forced air, the liquid is forced through a fabric cone and this creates tiny soap bubbles
  • The machine is adjustable so NSMT can decide the size of the ‘snowflakes' and
      ScroogeTomb
    whether they dissolve in the air or on the ground

Marilee Alexander, Todd Migliacci and Janet Murphy were among the many readers who wanted to know:  How do they 'burn' Ebenezer Scrooge's name into that tombstone?

  • The tombstone has metal frames built into it that are covered in theatrical flash paper on all 4 sides of the tombstone
  • The paper is ignited by an electrical current and it is designed to burn very quickly and to burn out completely
  • The tombstone and all props, costumes and set pieces around it are treated with flame retardant solutions that are re-applied each year
  • A licensed pyro technician is on staff and oversees the process at each performance
 
Many people including Penny Berceli, Linda Jamro, Lisa Hemlon, Arthur Cumming, Niles Berry and Edie and Renee were curious about the special effects such as the fog, Marley's green look, and Marley's flying.  How does NSMT make the stage foggy and Marley green and airborn?
MarleyFly
Tom Staggs takes to the air once again as Jacob Marley.
 
  •   ScroogeFog
    NSMT uses a special type of theatrical fog that is intended to clear quickly off the stage. Air currents within the theater, as well as the peaks in the roof and the shape of the ‘vom', all effect how the fog travels on stage and is dispersed
  • Marley's green look comes from a combination of lighting effects.  Rotating lights in the light grid have green filters on them to make him look green.  In addition, 4 actors are placed around the stage with hand held lights with green filters that they point toward Marley's face to light him up.  See if you can find them in the audience!
  • NSMT works with a company called ZFX that specializes in theatrical flying (there are only 2 companies in this country that specialize in this).
  • They provide the machinery to fly Marley and they have a special Flying Director on site to supervise flying rehearsals
  • 2 NSMT operators hold the ropes during the flying segments.  One person's rope helps to lift Marley and the other person's rope helps to move him back and forth along a track that's hung just below the lighting grid.
  • The weight limit for flying in this production is 150 pounds so Marley's chains cannot add to the weight (in other words, the chains are not metal).
 
WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Q&A with Lars Nelson, NSMT's Production Manager
costumes
Beautiful costumes like these worn for Fred's party scene in the 2006 production, will be seen again in 2007.
 

Do sets and costumes get reused every year?

  • Yes, NSMT reuses certain set pieces and costumes each year
  • NSMT also makes changes to the set.  This year, the musician's platform will be higher than in the past
  • 7 new costumes are being built:  3 new Pearlie costumes, 2 new ghost costumes (past and future) and one new costume for Scrooge
  • NSMT also creates new props and effects as necessary- look for the new Marley door knocker!

  MarleyScrooge-ws
What are the wires made of that hold up Marley during the flying segments

  • Steel 

Is this show easier to run since the 2005 fire?

  • We were able to redesign the lighting after the fire so it makes it a bit easier for the electrics department
  • The new technology for the center lift and slip stage are now more precise and effective as well

How has the production changed over the years as technology expanded in its capabilities?

  • Since A Christmas Carol involves ghosts, we like to take advantage of the latest technology to help tell the story
  • The technology certainly aids the storytelling, but it is really a collaborative effort to create this show every year and come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things on stage
  • One perfect eample of thechnology changing the show is the new snowmaking technology discussed earlier. What used to be confetti/paper snow is now soap snow that desolves and dries almost instantly. It requres no extensive clean up and is safer for the actors on stage.

 

cemetary-wide
 
ABOUT CASTING
For our first Unwrapped issue, we brought many of your questions to Jon Kimbell, NSMT's Artistic Director and Executive Producer, and Director of this year's production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.   He's the man with all the answers!

Theresa Giglio, Elle Eastman, Louise Smiley and Barbara Cahill were among the many readers who asked about the casting process for A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and Gail Liponi, Carol Sheehan, Sheila Sullivan and Kenneth Mizioch were among the many David Coffee fans with their own question about the actor.

Here is what Jon told us about casting and David Coffee:

  • Casting work for A Christmas Carol actually began in July and was completed in early November
  • Jon looked at thousands of resumes and headshots throughout the casting process
  • The roles for A Christmas Carol are very specific. For the role of The Narrator, Jon saw a different actor every 2 minutes for 3 hours! It took 4 days to cast that role.
  • Jon also saw hundreds of singers, dancers and acrobats
  • Auditions were held in New York City and in Beverly
  • Actors who have appeared in previous productions of A Christmas Carol typically need to audition again
  • 3 adult cast members from last year's production are returning: David Coffee (Scrooge), Tom Staggs (Marley) and Benjamin Howes (Bob Cratchit)
  • Jon worked closely with Music Director Brian Cimmet and Choreographer John MacInnis on all the casting decisions
  • David Coffee is the longest running consecutive cast member in the history of the show. This will be his 16th year as Ebenezer Scrooge!
 
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Out of the hundreds of performers who auditioned this season, these 32 talented actors will bring the magical ghost story to life. CLICK HERE to read all about the cast, as well as the creative team behind this year's show.
 
ABOUT THE SCRIPT

Readers including Melissa Gridley, AnneMarie Connolly, Donna Lawrence, Carol Dallea and Lauren Pandolfe all had questions about what changes are made each year, whether the script is faithful to Dickens' original text, and whether it's easier to produce this show than other NSMT musicals.

According to Jon:

  • Changes are made each year to keep the production fresh
  • This year the show is more about Dickens' story, the ghosts and the magic
  • Jon is upping the ante on the ghosts because it is a Ghost Story
  • Jon did extensive re-writes to the script this year including adding some things that had been eliminated over the years, and adding new musical pieces
  • Jon actually re-read the book recently and says the script is very faithful to Dickens' original work.
  • A Christmas Carol is definitely not the easiest show to produce because of the complicated technical elements such as the flying and the pyrotechnics
   
WEB EXCLUSIVE: Q&A WITH JON KIMBELL
What is the youngest age to see the production? 

According to Jon Kimbell:

  • It depends on the child and whether or not he or she is frightened by ghosts
  • Parents can help explain what the child is seeing is not real, while also allowing the child to lose him or herself in the experience
  • There are 6 and 7 year old children in the production as well

How many hours per week does the cast rehearse and do some rehearse more hours than others depending on how big their part is?

  • The actors rehearse 7 hours a day, 6 days a week for approximately 2 weeks
  • During technical rehearsal, the actors rehearse 10 hours a day for 2 days
  • The actors' roles and how many scenes they're in determine how long they need to be in rehearsal. Some actors will be in rehearsal longer than others.
  • The student performers start rehearsal after school and typically rehearse 3-4 hours per day
  • Rehearsals for the child actors started on November 7 and rehearsals for the adults started on November 13

How many years has A Christmas Carol been performed at NSMT and will you continue to do it every year?

  • This is the 19th annual production of A Christmas Carol.
  • If they ask me, I will certainly come back and direct the show next year.

Why does Scrooge ask the boy below the window, "What Day is it?"

  • He doesn't know how long he was in the spirit world and hehopes he has not missed Christmas entirely.
  • He had gone so many places with the spirits that he didn't realize it all happened in one night

What is the origin of the phrase "Bah Humbug"?

We did some research and found this explanation on Wikipedia.  See if you agree:

Humbug is an archaic term meaning "hoax", or "jest". While the term was first attested in 1751 in student slang, its etymology is unknown. It is known, however, that it was used as profanity centuries ago, in places such as Great Britain. Its present meaning as an exclamation is closer to "nonsense", or "gibberish", while as a noun, a humbug refers to a fraud or impostor, implying an element of unjustified publicity and spectacle.

In modern usage, the word is probably most associated with Ebenezer Scrooge, a character created by Charles Dickens. His famous reference to Christmas, "Bah! Humbug!", declaring Christmas to be a fraud, is heard afresh every year around Christmastime when the perennial favorite, A Christmas Carol, is played on stage or TV.

 
ODDS & ENDS

Q:  How many people are behind the scenes helping with costume and set changes during the performance?

A:  There are 32 people working behind the scenes on A CHRISTMAS CAROL- from costumes to props to scenery to flying to lighting to sound to everything and everyone in between!

ScroogeMarley07
 
Q:  Who does the hair and makeup for the stage performers in A CHRISTMAS CAROL?

A:  Gerard Kelly is the wig designer for A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  He has worked with NSMT on dozens of musicals including Hairspray, Les Miserables, Crazy For You and Fiddler on the Roof.  He is responsible for fitting and creating all the wigs the actors wear in the show.  Once the run of the show has begun, a production or wig intern helps the actors get into their wigs before each performance.  The actors themselves are responsible for applying their own makeup.  As we mentioned earlier this week, it takes Tom Staggs, who plays Marley, an hour to put on his makeup!

Q:  In what year was the book A Christmas Carol written?

A:  The book was first published on December 19, 1843.  The first production of the musical A CHRISTMAS CAROL at North Shore Music Theatre opened 146 years later in 1989.

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Q:  Do you advertise A CHRISTMAS CAROL on TV or radio? And if so, what channels?

A:  Yes.  Look for our television commercial for A CHRISTMAS CAROL on WCVB TV Channel 5, from December 10 -16. Comcast cable subscribers can catch our ad through December 21 on such stations as Bravo, ABC Family, the Food Network, Lifetime, HGTV, Discover and TBS.  We're also advertising on Northshore 104.9 radio.  Jacky Ankeles from Northshore 104.9 will be live at NSMT today, November 30 from 4 - 7 pm as part of our Holiday Illumination festivities!  Please join us for this free family event!

Q:  How long does the party last after the last performance?

A:  Not long!  The show ends a little after 9 pm on Sunday, December 23 and many of the actors leave immediately after they get out of costume and makeup to head home for the holidays!  David Coffee, our Scrooge, heads back to Texas!

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Where is George Dvorsky this season? Will he return to NSMT in the future?

  • George is currently doing an original production of ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE in Houston, TX. He says he misses the NSMT audiences and family but he could not resist working on this origianl show. He hopes to return next season.

Who is playing Mrs. Dilber this year?

  •  Nancy Johnston will play the roles of Mrs. Diber and Mrs. Fezziwig. She returns to the Chrismas Carol family this season having previously played THe Ghost of Christmas Past and Mrs. Cratchit in the show from 1995 - 1998.
 
 
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