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Ebenezer Scrooge

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From left, Douglas Quattrock, Jeffrey Sanzel and Hans Paul Hendrickson in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Images

Theatre Three’s 32nd annual performance of “A Christmas Carol” opened last weekend. “Too early,” you may say. “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.” Perhaps, but the spirit of Christmas — giving selflessly and spending time with the ones you love — is a message that holds true all year.

The show is based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel of cranky old miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is concerned only with business. One Christmas Eve, the ghost of his deceased business partner Jacob Marley appears, wearing the chains he’d forged in life, “link by link,” and tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who help him discover the true meaning of Christmas.

Published more than 170 years ago, Dickens’ tale of redemption quickly resonated with the working class and has remained a holiday favorite ever since.

Adapted for the stage by Theatre Three Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel in 1983, the production is constantly evolving, revising itself, with subtle changes that keep it fresh. The audience is led through a gamut of emotions, from fear to sadness to pure joy — a true testament to the magic of live theater.

The show brings back familiar faces year after year, with Sanzel (Scrooge), Douglas Quattrock (Bob Cratchit), Steve McCoy (Jacob Marley) and George Liberman (Mr. Fezziwig) leading a talented cast of 20 who, combined, play nearly 100 roles. The entire company, from the seasoned actors to the children, does a phenomenal job.

Sanzel, who also directs, is in every scene and is wonderful. In a scene with the Ghost of Christmas Past, he instantly transforms from an old, hunched-over tired man to a young man again, dancing the night away at Fezziwig’s holiday party. The transition is effortless and quite remarkable.

Quattrock’s performance as Bob Cratchit is particularly moving, especially in his scenes with Tiny Tim (played by Ryan M. Becker), and Steve McCoy is a daunting Marley. Other standouts include Liberman as the jolly Mr. Fezziwig, Kiernan Urso in the role of young Scrooge and Amanda Geraci, who reprises her role as the sweet but sassy Ghost of Christmas Past. James D. Schultz tackles a new role this year as the cheeky Ghost of Christmas Present “to show the joys of mankind” and does a tremendous job. Newcomer Hans Paul Hendrickson brings an elevated level of tenderness to the role of Scrooge’s optimistic nephew, Fred Halliwell, that is top-notch and operates the towering Ghost of Christmas Future with ease.

A Victorian set designed by Randall Parsons, period costumes by Parsons and Bonnie Vidal, lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr., music and sound by Ellen Michelmore and the many special effects pull it all together nicely to create a first-class production. Be it your second time or your 32nd, Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol” is well worth revisiting.

Arrive a little early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors in the lobby and stay afterward for photo ops with Scrooge (proceeds benefit the theater’s scholarship fund).

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “A Christmas Carol” on the Mainstage through Dec. 27. New this year, all evening shows begin at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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George Liberman reprises role for 9th year

Alexander Yagud-Wolek and George Liberman in last year’s performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.' Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Productions

By Rita J. Egan

In the classic tale “A Christmas Carol,” a glimpse of his younger years working for Mr. Fezziwig provides a delightful vision of Christmas past for Ebenezer Scrooge. This holiday season, for the 9th year in a row, actor George Liberman will take on the role of the miser’s former boss in Theatre Three’s adaptation of the holiday classic.

It’s a character the actor loves portraying and one whose kind-hearted spirit he captures perfectly, with great energy and a jovial laugh.

The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it. “Know it!” said Scrooge. “Was I apprenticed here?”

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement: “Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it’s Fezziwig alive again!”

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shows to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice.

Excerpt from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” 1843

“Fezziwig was a good businessman, but he believed that a happy workplace is a prosperous workplace, exactly the opposite of the environment that Scrooge is working in. His workplace was miserable; he was miserable. The Fezziwig workplace was totally different. You kind of see that when you go into the whole Fezziwig sequence in the show. It’s just a happy place,” said Liberman, who has played this role more than 400 times.

“The Fezziwig party — he’s inviting all of his workers, regardless of their class. He’s inviting his neighbors in; he’s having a great time. He wants everyone to enjoy themselves,” the actor said. “He’s bubbly, he’s happy; he has a great relationship with his wife. That’s kind of the way I try to portray him — being very, very happy and very bubbly, very full of life — and that’s what I love about the role.”

Douglas Quattrock, director of development and marketing, and group sales and marketing coordinator, who has played Bob Cratchit in the production for the last 12 years, said Liberman has a great understanding of the Fezziwig role. Quattrock explained that the character adds that touch of humanity to the story, where the most important thing is love.

“I think George embodies that. I’ve noticed that tenderness grow over the years. Every year he’s brought that nuance to it that a lot of actors who might play the role once or twice might not capture,” Quattrock said.

Liberman’s relationship with Theatre Three began in 1991, when he attended a performance of “Sweeney Todd.” The actor enjoyed the show so much he began auditioning and through the years has appeared in “Man of La Mancha” (Captain of the Inquisition), “Guys and Dolls” (Rusty Charlie) “Fiddler on the Roof” (Lazar Wolf), as well as others.

Jeffrey Sanzel, Theatre Three’s executive artistic director, describes Liberman as a go-to person who always has great chemistry with his castmates. “George is one of the easiest people to work with. I have never heard anybody say anything other than he’s wonderful,” Sanzel said, who also directs “A Christmas Carol” and stars as Scrooge.

Liberman’s interest in performing began during his days at Adelphi University. While a student there, he was a member of the Adelphi University Octet. The singing group would perform throughout New York State, and he appeared in one of the university’s musicals, “Little Mary Sunshine.” However, he said after graduating from college, due to working full-time and family responsibilities, he didn’t perform again until 1991, appearing in Theatre Three’s production of “Man of La Mancha”.

It wasn’t until the husband and father retired from working as an administrator for the New York State Office of Mental Health nine years ago that he approached Sanzel about participating in “A Christmas Carol.” He explained that the holiday production’s rehearsal and performance schedule would have been too demanding for him while working full-time.

Sanzel said he knew Liberman was perfect for the role of Fezziwig. “He’s very warm. There’s a real honesty about George, which comes across on stage because he’s that way in life,” the director said.

Liberman’s participation in “A Christmas Carol” keeps him, as well as the other actors, extremely busy the last few months of the year. Rehearsals this year began in the beginning of October, when the cast met downstairs to run through their lines, and on Oct. 26, they began rehearsing on stage, with a good percentage of the set constructed. Liberman, who loves to golf, said jokingly that he’s not quite sure what he would do this time of year if he weren’t rehearsing and performing on stage, especially with golf season being over.

Jenna Kavaler, George Liberman and Jeffrey Sanzel in last year’s performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.' Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Productions
Jenna Kavaler, George Liberman and Jeffrey Sanzel in last year’s performance of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Photo by Elizabeth Castrogiovanni, Kayline Productions

Liberman said he enjoys working with his fellow “A Christmas Carol” actors, both those who have returned from previous years and newcomers. He said Michelle Cosentino will be playing Mrs. Fezziwig for the first time and is wonderful in the role.

Cosentino enjoys working with Liberman as well, and she said she appreciates how welcoming and patient he is. “He’s pretty much Christmas 24/7. It’s like happiness is bursting out of him,” Cosentino said.

Liberman said he continually learns more about the story and the role and has added some refinements over the years, and he said he has grown as an actor as well. The growth has occurred not only due to playing Fezziwig each year, but also by watching Sanzel take on the role of Scrooge every holiday season. Liberman said he has learned a lot by watching the director, especially with how he shades his character in different ways.

In addition to his appreciation for what Fezziwig stands for, Liberman said the theme of “A Christmas Carol” also brings him back each year. He said, for him, the classic holiday story shows that even when you are as mean as Scrooge is, a person can learn the errors of his way.

“The message of the show is a very uplifting, positive message, as it progresses through the show. So I really enjoy doing it,” the actor said.

Liberman hopes that theatergoers will enjoy the message of the holiday story as much as he does. “I would hope that when people walk away, they’re inspired, and they come away with the notion that even the meanest of characters, the meanest of people, can be redeemed and can change, can see the positive in people and can do something positive for those around them,” he said.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present its 32nd annual production of “A Christmas Carol” from Nov. 14 to Dec. 27. Ticket prices range from $15 to $30. For more information and show times, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.