Countless numbers of actors have chomped at the bit, hoping and waiting for the chance to portray the iconic protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge featured in the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.”
And while versions abound, from films in black and white to HD color with musical additions, the best way to encounter this tale of redemption is live, on stage. Perhaps that’s why theater patrons swarm to Ford’s Theatre in northwest D.C. every Christmas season for its superb, annual production — one which defies traditional norms including a multi-racial cast, a greater emphasis on its child actors, energetic dancing and the singing of ageless carols that evoke joyful memories of the past.
This year’s production, directed by Michael Baron which runs through Dec. 30, celebrates 175 years since Dickens first published the story and features D.C.’s own Craig Wallace as Scrooge for the third consecutive year. What’s more, Wallace, a Black man, illustrates why the role bears so much richness that it cannot be contained simply because of the color of the actor’s skin.
“Part of why I love doing it is because I’m able to watch people discover the play’s essential message of friendship, compassion, giving to those in need and being thankful,” Wallace said. “It’s easy to forget amidst the daily hustle and bustle, dog-eat-dog world in which we live. This play offers us a refresher — one that we all welcome, maybe because we’ve forgotten what Christmas really means.”
“It’s something that’s hard to explain but people come back again and again, year after year, eager to experience the timeless message of this story,” Wallace said, adding that he also enjoys working with the children and showing them that he’s not really as frightening as the character that he portrays.
“In our production, Scrooge is no longer just a white man — that’s important as both the story and the character transcend race. I hope everyone can see themselves through me and realize that there’s a much better way to live than being mean, selfish and isolated from the rest of the world,” he said.
Fourteen children number the rotating cast of youth featured this year including two enthusiastic thespians both marking their debuts on Ford’s stage: Madison K. Fields, 10 from Upper Marlboro and Ariel Russell, 12 from Burke in the roles of Belinda and Martha Cratchit, respectively — two of the large brood of Scrooge’s clerk Bob Cratchit.
Both say that despite being a little nervous they’ve become increasingly comfortable in tackling their first time on a major stage.
“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done and it’s so much fun. I have to greet the audience before the show begins and that’s helping me get used to what being an actor is all about. An older cousin who’s an actor got me interested in acting. Now, it’s all I can think about. There’s something special about being on stage and performing before a live audience. And the message of this play — that’s really what I like most,” said Ariel, who laughed when reminded that she has the most important role of all of the Cratchit children.
Madison, who first started singing at age three before adding both dancing and acting to her quiver of skills, said she feels the emotions of the characters “intensely” as well as the emotional response from the audience.
“I feel a sense of joy when I’m on stage. It’s fun and it makes me happy. I can’t wait to do this play again next year. There’s something really special about ‘A Christmas Carol’ that I never realized until I got the chance to be a part of it. It makes people feel good about life and themselves — you can see it on the faces of those in the audience. That’s what being an actor is all about,” Madison said.
For the 10th year in a row, the Ford’s company of “A Christmas Carol” will devote time and energy to raising money for a Washington charity. Their efforts, coupled with the generosity of their audiences, have raised more than $735,822 since 2009 for local charities including: House of Ruth, N Street Village, Bread for the City, Covenant House Washington, Food and Friends, Martha’s Table, Miriam’s Kitchen, So Others Might Eat and Thrive DC. This year, D.C.’s Homeless Children’s Playtime Project has been chosen as the recipient of funds raised during the donation drive — an organization that partners with homeless shelters in the District to create safe and fun play spaces for the children where they live. Their trauma-informed programs help restore normalcy by providing opportunities for children to learn and heal through play, and empower children to make choices, express themselves, build friendships and find support.
Specially-enhanced performances include: audio-described, Dec. 29, 2 p.m.; sign-interpreted, Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m.; and captioned, Dec. 22, 2 p.m. The Ford’s tradition of presenting “A Christmas Carol” began in 1979 which marked 35 years during its previous season.
For tickets, go to www.fords.org; for information, call 202-347-4833.