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<i>A Christmas Carol</i> Musical is  Madison Square Garden Tradition - 2002-12-13


In the century and a half since it was written, Charles Dickens' classic story, A Christmas Carol, has been turned into many film and stage productions. Over the past decade, a musical version of the tale has become a Christmas tradition at the Madison Square Garden Theater in New York City.

A Christmas Carol centers on Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old misanthrope with a greedy love of money and a distaste for all things festive, especially Christmas.

On the night before Christmas, however, three ghosts confront Scrooge with his many trespasses against his fellow men, usually in the name of greed. The visitations leave Scrooge a changed man and, on Christmas morning, his sudden outpouring of love and affection for his fellow man delights his entire neighborhood.

The role of Ebenezer Scrooge has been filled in Christmases past by several well-known performers, including Roger Daltry, lead singer of legendary rock group, The Who, and Tim Curry, star of the cult film classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This year's Scrooge, the stage and screen actor F. Murray Abraham, says he gets into the role by connecting his own life to Scrooge's. "With a man like Scrooge, what you have to do is try to remember some of the really nasty things you've done to people," he says. "Things that you've forgotten because the subconscious wants to forget. And dig them up. And try and make amends for them. And this is very cathartic. If you can summon up those miserable, mucky, things about yourself and, through Scrooge, ask for forgiveness publicly, it really cleanses not only your own self a bit, but the people watching."

The show's choreographer and co-director, Susan Stroman, says Mr. Abraham sets the tone for the show and its company, which numbers more than 50. "F. Murray Abraham is a fantastic Scrooge," Ms. Stroman says. "He has great power onstage, and command of the language, so when Ebenezer Scrooge yells 'Bah, Humbug!' this year, you're really going to hear it in the back of the theater."

The play is produced by Radio City Productions, the same people behind the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, featuring the renown, high kicking dancing girls, the "Rockettes." In the past nine years, 2.5 million people have seen it.

Although there is a new Scrooge every year, many of the roles feature repeat performances. Actor Paul Kandel has been playing Scrooge's partner, Jacob Marley, for the past eight years. He says that he keeps returning because A Christmas Carol is "an important story in a troubled world." "It reminds people of the danger of being subsumed in consumer culture," he says. "At the end of the ride, you're going to think about who you loved, not what you own. And I think that message is worth repeating over and over again."

Dramatically speaking, the Christmas spirit of "peace on earth, good will towards men" is personified in the character of Tiny Tim, a poor and handicapped boy with a heart big enough even for the insufferable Scrooge. 10 year old Anthony Colangelo plays Tiny Tim. "He's a kid that's happy with what he has, and I'm just like that. Yeah," he says.

Anthony says his favorite part in the play comes at the end, when the reformed Scrooge raises him up onto his shoulders, crying, "God bless us, everyone!"

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