It’s not often you find a 12-year-old boy aspiring to mimic a crotchety old miser.
However, that’s exactly what Sam Agafonov was working on last week as he rehearsed his part in the Christian Center’s upcoming production of “Scrooge,” written by James P. Schumacher. Agafonov, a shy, talented seventh grader, plays the young version of Ebenezer Scrooge in the play based on the classic Charles Dickens tale, “A Christmas Carol.”
Coached by Sean Morgan, the play’s director who also plays the role of older Scrooge, Agafonov learned to harden his gaze, plant his feet in defiance and hold his hands characteristically behind his back as he practiced his solo.
Plays at the Christian Center have been wowing audiences for years. The high production value is one of the main draws, Morgan said. Audiences are used to seeing what Morgan called “bathrobe dramas,” in which actors throw on a robe, paint on a beard and become Moses.
Scrooge and its predecessors are clearly not minimum standard plays. There will be a live orchestra, intricate costumes, newly designed sets and a stage that allows set rotation on two giant turntables.
Work for this year’s Christmas show began in February, focusing largely on fundraising. Morgan, a veteran of both stage and screen acting, said a production of this magnitude and technology would cost $500,000 in a secular theater.
The production needed new sets to be built, lights to be strung and costumes to be made. However, through the various skills of church members and the generosity of volunteer work, Pastor Dick Bishop said production costs would come in around $25,000.
“Most all of the stuff is built from the ground up,” Morgan said.
Still, $25,000 is not a small price tag, especially in the recession-worn Flathead Valley. Plays at the Christian Center have always been free, Bishop said, but there was worry that might need to change this year.
The productions typically have some sponsorship from corporations or from church members, but this year Bishop said most of the money was raised in $25 and $50 increments. The main fundraising mechanism was “Operation Scrooge,” which raised awareness for the play and garnered donations.
Morgan said most of the play stays true to the Dickens tale, but the story is told from a Christian perspective. For example, instead of being visited by the infamous Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge is visited by an angel.
A Christian-themed play can be off-putting to some audience members, Morgan said, but he asserts the goal is to entertain and welcome.
“A lot people come who wouldn’t normally darken the doorway of a church and they hear Broadway-style music and see a huge production,” Morgan said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Both Bishop and Morgan acknowledged that certain parts of the play would probably hit home for many Flathead residents. The traditional tale is centered on the money-loving Scrooge who has nothing in his life but wealth. He has little compassion for his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit and doesn’t see the value in charity. But eventually Scrooge realizes that money isn’t everything.
“It’s appropriate for what the people in the valley are going through,” Morgan said. “It’s a very difficult year.”
There are three Scrooges in this production, one marking each progression of the miser’s life. Andrew Sweeney will play the young adult version of Scrooge.
The play is designed to bring hope and be a gift to the Flathead Valley, Morgan said. He also expects a full house for each of the nine performances, which says a lot when the church can fit 1,300 people. In all, Bishop said they are preparing for 11,000 total audience members. The regular Sunday congregation at the Christian Center is usually around 1,200, Bishop said.
Even with the prospect of large crowds, Agafonov is excited to perform. He said he’s not usually into singing solos, but his youth pastor suggested he should try out. He’s certainly glad to be part of the large production.
“It’s going to be pretty awesome,” Agafonov said.
The play will be performed on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 18 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 19 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 20 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
There is no cost for the production, but tickets are required to avoid overcrowded theaters. Tickets are available in Kalispell at Christian Center and Herberger’s, in Whitefish at the Grateful Bread and at all Montana Coffee Traders locations.
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