Like a holiday family gathering, three Auburn theater groups will team to present a classic Christmas tale in the heart of the city this season.
"Scrooge: The Musical" takes place Friday, Dec. 9, through Sunday, Dec. 11, at Auburn Public Theater. The show, a 1992 adaptation by Leslie Bricusse of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," finds the downtown venue collaborating with Auburn Players Community Theatre and Cayuga Community College's Harlequin Productions. It boasts a cast of more than 40 Auburn-area performers ages 4 to 70 and, in the director's chair, a relative newcomer to the area in Bill Daugherty.
A native of Missouri, Daugherty spent decades working in show business in the New York City area. He began teaching about 20 years ago in New York University's CAP21 program, with pupils that included Anne Hathaway, Kristen Bell and Matthew Morrison. The program eventually brought him to the Auburn area via the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival. Falling in love with the area, and feeling ready to quiet down, Daugherty bought the historic Orrin W. Burritt Mansion in Weedsport and began performing and directing with the Auburn Players two years ago.
Bricusse's show, inspired by the 1970 Albert Finney musical film "Scrooge," is something Daugherty has dreamed about staging for years, he said. After a few dramatic productions with the Players, Daugherty interpreted his permission to direct a musical as a sign the company trusted him. The show is more expensive than the typical Players production, he said, and continues the company's recent effort to include more performers that influenced September's award-winning "Almost, Maine."
Though uncommon, the Players' partnership with Harlequin and APT to present "Scrooge" came about organically, Daugherty said. He wanted to stage the musical in a more intimate venue, and not only did Auburn Public Theater meet that need, but it also offered the show a central downtown location. Daugherty has found directing the show's large cast on the theater's tight stage a rewarding creative challenge, as well. Audience members should be prepared for the cast to bring the show's 19th-century London off the stage and into the house, the director cautioned.
Rather than "A Christmas Carol's" more cartoonish iterations, "Scrooge" embraces Dickens' intentions to explore man's dark side with a ghost story, Daugherty said. Bob Miller's miser Ebenezer isn't an evil man, the director said, but one warped by misfortune and heartache. The actor's grasp of the origins of the cold-hearted character earned him the role at his reading, Daugherty said.
"(Miller) brought a vulnerability to Scrooge. He wasn't afraid to drop the facade of caricature and this bad, parsimonious creature. He showed humanity, which I loved," Daugherty said. "He understands the makeup of the broken man that lives inside of Ebenezer Scrooge, and he does a really nice job of learning how to repair that."
Like always in "A Christmas Carol," the audience sees Scrooge's transformation through ghostly visits from former partner Jacob Marley (Thames Nolan) and the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Jennifer Derbyshire), Present (Bob Frame, also the show's technical director) and Future (John Exner, who also plays nephew Fred). But in "Scrooge," that story is also told through music.
"When Marley comes to haunt him, the story this show tells is helping to guide Scrooge toward self-discovery, instead of scaring him into being the good guy," Daugherty said. "It's revealed through song and story."
Among the show's best voices, Daugherty said, is Ryan Persampieri as Tiny Tim. The "exceptional" younger members of the "Scrooge" cast were off-book before anyone else in the show, the director said, and the young, sickly Cratchit is among their brightest stars.
"Our Tiny Tim is angelic and he has the voice of a Vienna choir boy," Daugherty said. "He's going to break every heart in the house."