Tonight Jason and I are going to see the show A Christmas Carol. It’s a community theater production that Molly has been working with. She’d been spending a lot of time with actors in the show to run lines with them, especially the man playing Scrooge. He’s an actor from New York, imported for the show and who has his own IMDB page.
One Advent season I read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to the family for our nightly reading time. I’d never read it myself before that, so it was as fun for me as everyone else around our table as the story unfolded—though I did know the basic story because we’d watched The Muppet Christmas Carol. Over and over. I can still watch it and love it. It’s my favorite of all the film renditions I’ve seen.
Our church had a tradition of an elegant holiday event in December that included a formal sit-down dinner and entertainment. It was a two-night affair with linen tablecloths, china and crystal, a gourmet menu, and pricey tickets. The event was called “Christmas by Candlelight.” I’d been a part of the entertainment in previous years, but it was becoming more of a disjointed variety show. But in the fall of 2003, I began to envision an evening in a dinner theater venue, a feast in both cuisine and musical entertainment. So I went to work.
The result was a musical that was a combination of my two favorite Christmas stories--A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. I mashed them up with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music and came up with The Sound of Christmas Music. Ebenezer Von Trapp was a widower with seven children. His late wife had loved Christmas more than anything and with her passing, Ebenezer forbid Christmas to ever be celebrated in his home again, even though his kids all had festive names like Holly, Christoph Carroll, and Noelle. Ebenezer could never really tell apart his twins Gabriel and Michael (played by my look-alikes, Charlie and Spencer) so he just renamed them each day, depending on who he thought was whom. But when their new governess Maria came to care for the children, she flaunted his anti-Christmas rules. She loved the season so much, she taught the children all about Christmas, including how to sing carols. When Ebenezer discovered them singing, he became outraged and fired Maria. That night—Christmas Eve—an angel who was trying to earn her wings was sent to pay Ebenezer a visit. She transported him to the first Christmas and showed him Mary with Jesus in the manger and taught him about loneliness and fear, and that Mary wasn’t alone in the midst of frightening circumstances, and neither was Ebenezer. When Ebenezer returned in the morning and discovered he hadn’t yet missed Christmas, he gathered together his seven children, Maria, and her Mother Abbess, and they lit the Christmas tree and sang together a combination of I Wonder as I Wander and Edelweiss in three part harmony.
To prepare to write the show, I watched every version of Dickens’ story I could find. And I re-watched the ones I’d already seen. In high school, I’d played the part of Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music, so I knew its music well. And having watched The Muppet Christmas Carol so many times, as well as It’s a Wonderful Life, I was thrilled with the challenge of putting it all together into one story and setting it to music. Combining songs like The Hills Are Alive with Jingle Bells and O Holy Night was incredibly fun. “The hills are alive…with the sound of Jingle bells, jingle bells…” and so on. Re-writing the Do, Re, Mi song with Christmas lyrics then having Mother Abbess sing Gloria In Excelsis Deo as the kids and Maria sang Doe, a deer, on Santa’s team… was a delight. Joanne Kaiser, an exceptional pianist, helped to implement all my outrageous, unconventional ideas and I couldn’t have done it without her.
In addition to writing the show, I directed it too. And then as it developed, I got excited about the costumes and sewed seven matching Christmas-themed sailor outfits for the seven children (four of the kids were mine, and the other three were from two families we homeschooled with, Bailey, Miranda, and Zach).
Then of course we needed a stage set. Since there wasn’t anyone else to build it, I went to work. My dad helped me build a platform and steps so when the angel visited Ebenezer they could stand high above the stage and look down over creation and see the first Christmas. Jason had to give up having his wingback chair at home for a bit as it became a prop. I created the angel costume too (for Dana)—very fun with all its sparkles and glitter—and in the end after she’d taught Ebenezer to love Christmas once again, she turned for her final bow and show that wings had sprouted, displaying them proudly to the audience.
The entire experience was a tremendous thrill. This was even bigger than Halloween! Costumes for everyone, plus a set, plus I was directing, plus I was prop manager, plus plus plus. It was cool. A volunteer from church ran the sound booth for me and spoke over a mike when we needed God to command the angel. He was from Australia, so it was pretty enjoyable to hear that God has an Aussie accent. I needed a stage manager too, so the younger son of Joanne and Ebenezer (Richard) turned on the gold and white Christmas tree lights as Maria (Peggy) and Mother Abbess (Renee) sang the opening songs. Every time they sang “jingle bells, jingle bells” more Christmas trees lit up.
Thirteen years ago this weekend we debuted. We had two nights of performances. The dinner was superb—a meal of prime rib, Yorkshire pudding, and oven-roasted vegetables—made by the tireless team in the kitchen and served by the youth group dressed in black, looking very professional. They’d even had lessons beforehand on how to serve properly. While the guests ate before the show started, I arranged for background music of guitar and violin by professional performers, some of whom I just may be related to and who always indulge my fanciful whims quite generously by donating their services. During the show, more family members and musician friends accompanied our singers to make it incredibly classy.
The production was a hit. The people loved it. We got standing ovations and multitudes of praise. It was such fun, such incredibly satisfying work, that I’ll never forget it. We had a blast doing it. It was the church’s final production of “Christmas by Candlelight,” after years and years of holding the tradition. I’m very glad that we got to finish it out so strong. It was A Night to Remember. (Hey! Another film I should have worked into the theme….)
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