Past, present and the future mingled in my mind as the 47th year of “A Christmas Carol” began and Jerry Longe started the last of his 17 runs as Ebenezer Scrooge. And I found myself wondering if the two children sitting behind me, a pre-schooler and a grade-schooler would many years from now be seeing it with their grandchildren.
I hoped so. I saw it with my granddaughter Kaela, then age 3, about a quarter-century ago and still smile when I recall her very audible whispering from the front row, “Ghost coming,” as Al DiMauro, then playing Jacob Marley’s chain-burdened ghost, arrived on stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
And I hope the day never comes when this heartwarming gift from Charles Jones and later directors such as Susan Baer Collins doesn’t shine brightly each Christmas season. The best test of its durability was passed when the late great Dick Boyd retired after 30 years as the original Ebenezer.
His departure was marked by a huge spread in USA Today and more than a few who wondered if he could possibly be replaced. Jerry Longe gladly accepted the challenge.
And it became a joy to watch his distinctive version of the old miser add fresh new touches each year as three ghosts lead him to his redemption. When Scrooge begins to mourn the losses brought on by his cold-hearted folly, one wonders if Longe draws on his own sorrow from saying farewell to a role he loves.
But there is more to the magic of this show than the great contributions of Boyd and Longe. Once music director and pianist Jim Boggess strikes up the band to open with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” this reviewer regrets not naming every instrumentalist and every vocalist who shares the orchestration created by John J. Bennett nearly a half century ago.
Newcomers, from Charlotte Crouch as an endearing Tiny Tim, to DJ Tyree as a playful and boisterous Ghost of Christmas Present, share the stage with such veterans of this show as Julie Huff whose several stretches as the Ghost of Christmas Past are marked by her lyrical laughter.
Longtime director Collins shared her duties with actor Jim McKain and the theater’s new artistic director Stephan Santa. It would be interesting to hear how each of them added to making this show seem both fresh as a daisy and as familiar as a lifelong friend. Read Santa’s “Welcome” comments to see how he was introduced to this special event.
Who knows how many of you readers already have experienced this annual gift from the Playhouse. Attendance at least once should be a requirement for local citizenship.
“A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 23 at the Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St., with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, and special performances at 7 p.m. Wednesdays. Tickets, available from the Playhouse box office by calling 402-553-0800 or visiting Ticketomaha.com, range from $40 to $70.