Ever-changing "A Christmas Carol" is back for the 13th year

The Cratchits: John Lucas as Bob, Kenzie Richards as Mrs. Cratchit and Andrew Halbrook as Tiny Tim

For the 13th year, Grigsby Intermediate School Principal Donald Stratton will utter the infamous phrase, “Bah, humbug!”

Granite City High School’s annual holiday production of Charles Dickens’ classic tale “A Christmas Carol” will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 5-8, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8. There will also be two special student performances at 9:30 a.m. and noon Wednesday, Dec. 4.

According to director John Manoogian, this year’s production has exciting additions. 

“One in particular involves the new start of the show,” he said. “I think audiences will have the opportunity to really get to know Ebenezer Scrooge as he struggles with the voices from the past. Audiences will also be excited about so many of our former Theater Department students who have returned for this production, including Nicholas Smith, Lacey Cook Shaeffer, Mason Rutter, Jerry Cockrum and Kimberly Melton.”

“A Christmas Carol” tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a greedy curmudgeon who scoffs at the very idea of celebrating Christmas. He transforms into a more gentle and kindly man after being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

Manoogian says there was never an intention to make the production an annual event. 

“I never imagined that 13 years later we would still be bringing to life this holiday classic for the Granite City community,” he said. “From day one, the response has been overwhelming. Over 25,000 people have attended our performances.”

Since 2007, more than 700 actors, including teachers, students, administrators and residents, have participated with ages ranging from 5-85. This year’s cast includes about 60 actors and actresses, and more than 40 student stage crew members.

Audience members who have followed the production since its inaugural performance will notice several changes have taken place over the years.

“Over the years, the script has evolved, musical numbers have come and gone and each year, and we try to add a little special treat for our audiences,” Manoogian said. “This year we have included a new musical number that incorporates many of our middle school students. This year’s production is also unique because the audience will get to meet not only Scrooge as an old man, but also the childhood Scrooge, young adult Scrooge and adult Scrooge. Meeting Scrooge at each of these different phases of his life helps the audience understand just why and how he has changed over the years.”

The production set has also evolved.

“This production has continued to evolve by creating more elaborate set designs,” Manoogian said. “In 2006, the production was even adapted to an outdoor venue that drew hundreds of audience members, despite freezing temperatures. Collaborating as a production team over the past 13 years with Mr. Donald Stratton, Mrs. Margaret Holland-Pennell and so many returning cast members, we have worked diligently to assure the production remains fresh and engaging.”

Holland-Pennell, principal of Holy Family Catholic School, has been the production’s choreographer since the beginning. 

“Being a part of this holiday tradition for the past 13 years has been magical for audience members as they begin the holiday season,” she said. “On a personal level, it has been a blessing to be associated with my daughter Melissa Kimble, granddaughter London Kimble, Mr. John Manoogian and Mr. Donald Stratton — both of whom are my dear friends. To have the opportunity each year to collaborate with a cast of such talented individuals continues to be one of my favorite holiday traditions.”

Like Manoogian, Stratton did not foresee “A Christmas Carol” becoming an annual show. He says portraying this iconic character for all these years has been incredible. 

“I truly enjoy watching this curmudgeon of a person transform into a nice guy,” he said. 

Like every theatrical production, there are challenges.

“It’s the new things every year that are the challenges,” Stratton said. “You know, changing the script a little bit each year. That’s a real challenge for me because I am a man of habit. John is not a person of habit. He wants to change things here and there, but you must in order to keep the show fresh. Over the years, the performance has gotten a little longer. It’s like up to an hour and 20 minutes now, where it was originally around an hour and five minutes. These changes truly make the show better. We added a new song at the end that we feel is the crowning moment of Scrooge’s transformation.”

In addition to Stratton, the cast includes John Lucas as Bob Cratchit, Kenzie Richards as Mrs. Cratchit, Andrew Halbrook as Tiny Tim, Melissa Kimble as Jacob Marley, Rebecca Kozyak-Cowley as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Karen Robertson as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Jerry Cockrum as the Ghost of Christmas Future, John Kirkpatrick as Mr. Fezziwig, Lacey Cook-Shaeffer as Mrs. Fezziwig, Mason Rutter as Fred, Whitney Klee as Sally and London Kimble as the Concrete Angel.

Granite City High School freshman Lauren Wolfe plays a Gossiper and Cemetery Stature. This is her first time participating in “A Christmas Carol,” and she said she would love to be in future productions.

“I have always seen this show growing up as a kid, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to be a part of that,’” she said. “I love the music, the scenes, plus my sisters have been in it. This process has been truly eye-opening because I never got to see like the behind-the-scenes stuff. I feel so much more connected with this show now.”

Former student Nicholas Smith will once again portray Young Ebenezer Scrooge. This is his 11th year performing in “A Christmas Carol.” 

“For me, it has also become a part of my personal holiday tradition,” he said. “Participating in this annual production allows me to help spread the joy of the holiday season with so many of our cherished theater patrons. Over the years, I have not only developed close friendships with many of the cast members, but I have also had the opportunity to explore many different roles in this production. A couple of my favorites have been bringing to life the author, Charles Dickens, and definitely playing Young Scrooge for the past several years.”

Even after Manoogian and Stratton are retired, they both hope this production will continue.

“This show is a labor of love, Manoogian said. “It has become a part of so many people’s holiday tradition, and we thank them for that. We love helping them kick off the holiday spirit by bringing this show to the stage each year. This annual production has become a part of who we are and what we do.”

For more information and tickets, contact Manoogian at john.manoogian@gcsd9.net or call the Theater Department at (618) 451-5808. General admission is $5 and reserved seating is $10. Performances sell out annually, so it suggested to purchase tickets in advance. 

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