With ‘A Christmas Carol: The Musical,’ Whitefish Theatre Co. Aims For ‘Spectacular’ Show

The show includes musical numbers written by Alan Menkin, the composer behind “The Little Mermaid,” and “Beauty and the Beast”

By Mike Kordenbrock
The Whitefish Theatre Company rehearses "A Christmas Carol: The Musical." Photos by Matt Wetzler of TheWMatt Photography.

There are unmistakable signs when a person is caught up in the Christmas spirit. Festoons of lights might blanket their house or electronically animated reindeer might just dash across their lawn under the watch of a towering balloon Santa Claus. Maybe they’re walking around dressed like an elf tossing gifts from a sack.

The signs are a little different though when it comes to the Whitefish Theatre Company, but the tendency to go all-in remains the same.

The most glaring examples from their upcoming run of “A Christmas Carol: The Musical,” come when director Kim Krueger starts talking numbers. Forty cast members. Two to four costume changes for each. Performers ranging in age from 9 all the way up into their 70s. Set changes, special effects, musical numbers written by the composer behind the songs of “The Little Mermaid,” are all part of what Krueger believes will make this a memorable show.

“This is probably the biggest production, at least since I’ve been here, that we’ve ever done,” Krueger said.  After consulting with the theater company’s technical director and costumer, ahead of the upcoming run, the consensus was clear.

“We all sat down together and said ‘Let’s just go for it.’” Krueger said. “And so it’s going to be spectacular. It’s going to be a feast for the eyes.”

And while this particular musical version is tinged with a little extra dose of humor courtesy of the cast, Krueger said the message at the heart of it remains consistent with the original.

“It’s a great reminder of being kind, and being a good community member — all of the things that Scrooge needs to learn. It’s just a great reminder of ‘I can personally make somebody’s life better today.’” she said.

The heart of the story remains the journey of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly, aggrieved man who finds himself transported through time and space by ghosts who subject him to visions so powerful that he comes to embrace a more generous, kind outlook on life.

Going into auditions, playing Scrooge was always the goal for Malcolm Sharbutt, who Krueger cast in the role. He said his ambition to play Scrooge is tied in with how the character is “such a staple of our consciousness as a society.”

Sharbutt said he grew up seeing all the different interpretations of the character, from Scrooge McDuck, to Michael Caine, and George C. Scott. Bill Murray, he said, is his favorite of the bunch, owing to Sharbutt’s own natural proclivity towards comedy.

“I think comedy comes when you find the heart of the character. Obviously, it’s grim, and the more you delve into Charles Dickens and all the Dickensian literature, it was a grim time to be a poor Englishman, and a poor person in general.”

While Sharbutt didn’t characterize himself as a Scrooge-like personality, he described how taken on the role has brought him around to get in the holiday spirit, albeit in a bit of a more understated way.

It’s definitely softened me up a little bit,” he said.

Laughing he shared a recent epiphany that came while standing in a long line at the post office, which might have gotten under his skin in the past. But now, having inhabited the mind of Scrooge for weeks on end, he accepted that Christmas is approaching, and people are simply doing what they do.

“I’ll just listen to my podcast. You gotta stand in line for 20 minutes? Who cares.” he said.

The warm feelings go a little further when Sharbutt considers what it’s been like for him to join the world of community theater.

The upcoming show will be his third time in a Whitefish Theatre Company production, something he said he relishes now because he acts just for the love of it. During a previous chapter in his life, Sharbutt was a New York-based actor, who, under the stage name Malcom Madera, once had a recurring role in “House of Cards,” and used to chase every gig with the hopes of securing another month’s rent.

“It definitely makes me feel like I’m a part of the community more. And it’s like art imitating life,” he said of playing Scrooge. “It does feel good to give back and be a part of the community, which is a lot of what the play is about.”

The play also has a little bit of a family component to it — literally in the case of Dayle and Tony Hernandez, a retired married couple who are both in the show in multiple roles, including for Tony the role of Mr. Fezziwig.

They do a lot of singing at home, but this is the first time they’ve been in a musical together. Taking this on together can make things between the two of them “a little tense at times,” Tony said, although that’s a reflection of some of the nerves that come in the face of having to perform as part of an ensemble in front of a live audience. On the whole though, the couple said they’re enjoying the experience.

Dayle has a background in wardrobe consulting and personal shopping. Usually, she said, Tony’s in a show, and she gets to have fun coaching him on what to wear and how to style himself. Now, she’s in the chorus, playing one of Jacob Marley’s ghosts, and also as an undertaker. Tony, in addition to his role as Mr. Fezziwig, also has roles as a grave digger and a banker.

“It’s been great, it’s been fun,” Dayle Hernandez said.

For people who may want to get involved with WTC, cast member Laura Abernethy encouraged them to give it a shot. She said that after moving to Whitefish a few years ago the theatre welcomed her with open arms, and she emphasized that experience isn’t a requirement to contribute.

“If you just show up with the right attitude and a shrapnel of skill, they want to work with you and bring you into the fold, because that’s the kind of place it is.”

Abernethy is playing The Ghost of Christmas Past, alongside Rob Koelzer as The Ghost of Christmas Present and Joy James as The Ghost of Christmas Future. Rounding out the main cast is Mikey Winn as Jacob Marley and Michael Oaks as Cratchit.

The musical is upbeat, but it’s not “beat you over the head with Christmas carols,” level of upbeat, Abernethy said in describing its mood.

“There’s really fun music, but it has highs and lows, and darkness and light.”

The Whitefish Theatre Company will be performing “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” on Dec. 8, Dec. 9, Dec. 14, Dec. 15 and Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the O’Shaugnessy Center in Whitefish. There will also be matinee shows at 4 p.m. on Dec. 10 and Dec. 17. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the O’Shaugnessy Center box office Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., or by calling 406-862-5371. For more information, including to purchase tickets online, go to www.whitefishtheatreco.org.

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