MATTOON — The Mattoon Arts Council has made preparations to celebrate its 20th anniversary by presenting one of its largest shows ever — a production of "A Christmas Carol" with 36 cast members acting, singing and dancing.
"This is on a massive scale. There are 45 characters in the show. Some of the actors are doubling up roles," said Arts Council Coordinator Julia Degler-Whitmore, who will portray Mother Cratchit in the family-friendly production. The cast ranges in age from 4 to 70.
Performances of "A Christmas Carol," starring veteran actor and theater producer Rod Sickler as Scrooge, are set for Saturday, Sunday, and Dec. 12-15 at the Burgess-Osborne Memorial Auditorium, 1701 Wabash Ave. The auditorium will be transformed into a 1800s street market, complete with craft vendors.
The production's director, Jim Whitmore, said Sickler, of Champaign, has the rights to this version of Charles Dickens' classic Christmas tale. Whitmore said this version has some new story elements, including exploring Scrooge's tragic childhood in boarding school.
"It's a great story. Scrooge wasn't always mean. He was nice, initially," Whitmore said.
Scrooge gets visits on Christmas Eve and warnings to change his miserly ways from four ghosts, including the Ghost of Christmas Past (played by Ricky Punches) showing Scrooge what he was like as a child (played by Christopher Carter) and young man (played by Quinn Miller).
Miller, of Charleston, said he enjoyed learning the choreography needed for young Scrooge to waltz with the love of his life, Belle (Alyssa Powers). The actor said he also enjoyed working with Powers to prepare for the couple's emotional breakup scene.
"I need to reference how Scrooge is going to turn out in the future. I needed to reference how the bitterness turned Scrooge into what he is," Miller said.
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Whitmore said with Sickler having the rights to this version, they had the freedom to add original songs to the Christmas carols within the production.
The new songs include "Mother's Prayer" and "Table Set Song," written by Degler-Whitmore, and "It's Christmas, written by Scott Carter (Fezziwig).
Scott Carter is joined in the large cast by his wife, Rosha, and their children, Nathanial, 18; Joshua, 15; Christopher, 14; and Natasha, 11.
Rosha Carter, who is also on the seamstress staff, said she was a music major and her husband was a theater major in school. She said they have passed their love of theater arts on to their children and have enjoyed being in community theater with them for the first time.
"It's been a lot of fun. We have had a good time with it," Rosha Carter said. "It's fun to put a production together and see it grow."
Degler-Whitmore said the show will help mark the Arts Council's 20th anniversary and showcase the return of performing arts to Burgess-Osborne. The city-owned auditorium was built more than 60 years ago and has been renovated in recent years.
"The auditorium was meant for the community. It was meant for events and programs," Degler-Whitmore said.
Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Dec. 12-14, and 3 p.m. Dec. 15.
The Mattoon Community Concert Band will play opening music for the performances and present a free holiday concert at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, along with the the Green Wave Singers. A "Sensory Friendly Theatre Experience" for families with special needs children will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Dec. 14.
General admission tickets can be purchased in advance for $10 each by visiting www.mattoonartscouncil.org/ or by calling the council at (217) 258-6286. Tickets for the sensory friendly event are available for $5 for individuals and $10 for family.
Contact Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @TheRobStroud