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Communique: Crumpet & Scrooge At Thalian Hall | "Santaland" & "Christmas Carol" This Weekend

Gina Gambony
WHQR Public Media
Tony Rivenbark in the Star dressing room, Thalian Hall

Two holiday harumphers are onstage at Thalian Hall--Ebeneezer Scrooge (played by Tony Rivenbark in A Christmas Carol for the 13th, 14th, or possibly 15th time) and Crumpet (from the show Santaland Diaries, which is being performed for the 14th time in Wilmington, this year by Kevin Wilson). 

Listen above to hear Tony and Kevin talk about their respective roles. Santaland Diaries, presented by Panache Theatrical Productions, is onstage this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30pm, and Sunday at 3:00pm. A Christmas Carol, the Musical from Thalian Association runs Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2:00pm & 7:30pm, and Sunday at 3:00pm. 

James Bowling: I'm the ghost of Christmas Present. Or past.

Gina: Past participle?

James: [laughs] Yes. 

Gina: Is there anything you'd like to tell me about the show?

James: Yes. It's a joy. It's a holiday feast. And please come see it.

Gina: Do you sing?

James: Yes, I do. For the first time in a long time I've been able to.

Gina: Do you have a solo?

James: Yes I do.

Gina: Can you sing a few bars right now?

James: Yeah... when you put me on the spot. [sings] "It's your lucky night! Brought you something bright! Something with a twinkle and a glow. To remember the lights of long ago..."

Gina: Beautiful. Thank you.

Gina:  Knock knock, Tony Rivenbark! Hello. 

Tony: What's going on?

Gina: You look lovely.

Tony: Thank you. Thank you.

Gina: I just wanted to stop by and talk to you for a minute. Tony, you're playing Scrooge again.

Tony: Yes, for the 13th or 14th or 15th... I'll have to go back and figure out—one newspaper says 15, one newspaper says 13, I don't know. But it's more than 10 and more than a dozen!

Gina: This is your first time doing the "Christmas Carol" musical?

Tony: This musical? Yes, there are other musicals. Mr. Scrooge, there's Steve Cooper's "Ebenezer," Frank Trimble's "Ebenezer." And then other musicals that have been written. So there are quite a few out there, but this is the first time I've done this one, which is by the people who did "The Beauty and the Beast."

Gina: So this is not your first time doing "Christmas Carol" as a musical?

Tony: That is correct. "Ebenezer" by Steve Cooper was actually written for me. But I've not done any of the others. Shane's version has music in it, but Scrooge doesn't sing.

Gina: Tony, do you feel that you've been typecast?

Tony: I've noticed now people on the streets say, "Oh, hey, Scrooge! Hey Scrooge!" And it makes me think of Joseph Jefferson—he was so associated with the role of Rip Van Winkle that that's actually what people called him. They would call him Mr. Van Winkle, or they would say Rip—"Hey Rip, how you doing?" So I don't know. I don't think it's a bad thing. It doesn't bother me.

Gina: Why do people love a curmudgeonly, horrible mean character like Scrooge so much?

Tony: Because, you know, there's a little bit of that in all of us to some degree. And the whole point is that he recognizes—as Dorothy Gillespie once said to me, "Life is not a rehearsal." It isn't. And so whatever time you have left, you know, you need to probably think about what you're doing and how you're doing it and how you treat other people. I think that's the one of the joys of playing the role is because it does release a powerful message. It would be nice if people felt that way all year long, but at least once a year, people need to think about other people who, you know—everybody is less fortunate than us, no matter who you are. There's always somebody that's struggling. And I think that being able to say that, you know, in an entertaining and charming way as to show, as a happy, feel-good Christmas Eve show, is a good thing.

Gina: Do you have anything to say about this particular production being a musical? The casting is different... and I've seen you, of course, play Scrooge a lot, particularly with a Theater Exchange. This is different in what ways?

Tony: I love the intimacy of the Theater Exchange [in the Stein Theater]. So, you put it on the big stage, and there's a distance to the audience and it's bigger. You’ve got to play it broader and bigger and so, you know, what I would do with my eyes and my face doesn't work as well on the bigger stage. And I saw the show in Madison Square Garden with Tony Randall. I mean, good God, it was gigantic. But this is a complex show. The music is very difficult to run and the cast has done a brilliant job working on it because it's not easy. But it's a good piece. A lot of Dickens is not in it. I mean the language. I think it's definitely a sort of a modern day adaptation, even though there are certainly many of the famous lines, like "bah humbug" and "Let them die and decrease the surplus population," all that sort of thing... "I don't make merry myself at Christmas." But it's interesting, it's experience. Everybody has worked really hard on this and however it goes with these performances, and I can't say that any of them, certainly as far as I'm concerned, were perfect—but they have been a lot of fun and the audience has just been so responsive to it.

Gina: Do you have a solo?

Tony: Several.

Gina: Alright, you have a mic check.

Tony: All right, thanks.

[walking through crowd]

Gina: Hi. What's your name?

Credit Gina Gambony / WHQR Public Media
WHQR Public Media
Kevin Wilson plays "Crumpet" in "The Santaland Diaries"

Kevin: Kevin Wilson.

Gina: What are you doing this afternoon?

Kevin: A play.

Gina: Tell me about it.

Kevin: It's called "SantaLand Diaries." It's based on an essay by David Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello.

Gina: And this show is a tradition in Wilmington and now it's your turn.

Kevin: That's right. I guess I'm number 14 in the long line of Crumpets.

Gina: How many Crumpets can you name?

Kevin: Oh, let's see. Adam Poole, Jason Hatfield, Anthony Lawson, John Stafford, Michael Granberry, Zach Hanner... I've got too many lines swimming around in my head right now to think of this.

Gina: That's okay. I didn't expect you to pass the quiz. It's just a fun thing to ask whenever there's a new Crumpet. What did you think when you were asked to do this role?

Kevin: Well, it's something that I've wanted to do for quite a long time. I thought that I was really ready to take on the challenge. So I was very excited when they finally asked me to do it.

Gina: And has it been a challenge?

Kevin: It has been the hardest thing that I've ever done in theater in 30 years of performing. It's been the biggest challenge I've ever undertaken.

Gina: What's hard about it?

Kevin: Well, number one is the lines. It's 26 pages of lines. So that's very difficult. It's the sheer commitment, I think to the role. It's something that once you're cast, which is usually in late summer, you really need to spend every single day looking at the script and every single day thinking about the character. So it's really a commitment of about four months.

Gina: And when you were synthesizing this character into yourself, or taking on this character, or creating this character or however you went through it—tell me about the Crumpet that you've created.

Kevin: Well, I think that the easiest way to play Crumpet is to just go for your standard disgruntled, cynical type of person. I tried to approach the role as Crumpet is playing the game. He is working the job, he does stick the job out. He doesn't quit, and though his coworkers and a lot of the customers are pretty crazy, he still sticks with it and I think he learns something about himself in the end.

Gina: So I think it's interesting that we have a "Christmas Carol" on one stage here and we have "SantaLand Diaries" on the other because both of them have these really cynical leading men.

Kevin: Yes. True. I think both men learn something about themselves and something about the Christmas spirit by the end of the show. So the audience walks away feeling a little bit more cheerful about the holidays.

Holli: Hey, how are you doing?

Gina: Good! Hey Holli. So this is "SantaLand Diaries" and just tell me, say whatever you want to say.

Holli: I'm really excited that Panache is presenting "SantaLand" for the fourth year that we've done it—the 14th time that we've had a Crumpet on the stage in Wilmington. And we have a wonderful Crumpet, an incredible Crumpet named Kevin, and also we have some terrific singers this year that are so much fun and it's a great show.

Gina: Where are the singers?

Holli: They are in the dressing room.

Gina: I'm gonna go ask them sing for me. Is that okay?

Holli: Yeah! Last dressing room before you get to the stairs.

Gina: Hi. Are youthe Not Ready For Christmas Carolers. Would you mind singing a little song for me?

(singers sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.")

Gina: Could you just tell me your names?

Amy: Amy Carter.

Jacy: Jacy Coffman.

Kaleb: Kaleb Bradley.

Gina: Kaleb! Well, I'll be darned!

Kaleb: I know. Been a really long time!

[Kaleb was recently interviewed about performing the title role in "A Charlie Brown Christmas"]