London has its "Mousetrap," and New York City has "The Fantasticks," two plays that have almost become a way of life at theaters there. But Annapolis has "A Christmas Carol."
This musical, lovingly adapted from the Charles Dickens Christmas classic by Dick Gessner and Rick Wade, has returned to Colonial Players, located just off State Circle at 108 East St. through Sunday, Dec. 16. The event marks the 10th anniversary of a well-loved holiday tradition for many in both the cast and the public, who return year after year to see or take part in the show.
Longtime friends and creative partners, Gessner and Wade have a long string of well-crafted, intelligent children's plays to their credit, including "Rumplestiltskin," "Pinocchio," "Treasure Island," and "Puss 'n Boots."
But nothing has the seasonal impact of this show, whose local popularity threatens to eclipse that of the original, itself one of the enduring holiday classics. Tickets for the show's entire run generally sell out two to three hours after they go on sale.
"What I expected was that we'd have a nice experiment for one year, that it would be fun, and that would be that," said Wade. "We thought it would work, and that people would like it. But we certainly (didn't think) it would have the impact that it's had, and it has had an impact," said Gessner, a popular local entertainer who is opening his own nightclub in January.
But what they got was a play that has almost taken on a life of its own, with cast and audience members who return every year, sometimes with their own children in tow.
On at least one occasion, Colonial Players has contemplated dropping the play in order to find something new for the season. But the show's appeal proved too strong to resist.
Wade, the vice president for communications for the Maryland Hospital Association, was the director of this year's show.
"I wanted to see what I'd do differently (with the play) after all these years," said the veteran author, performer and director. "So far, it's been a real learning experience, a nice mixture of new and old people, a lot of things that are very fresh to me. There's a warmth and intimacy of emotion in this play that is true to the Dickens story, that you can't find on the screen."
This year, Marvin Hunter, who created the role of Ebenezer Scrooge and played it for a number of years, has also returned to the role in honor of the anniversary.
Hunter, who performed for the first six years of the show, said that he felt the public's affection for the show was based on "Christmas love, pure and simple. We have people here who have been coming from the very beginning. It's the Nutcracker Suite, a part of the tradition and the kind of things associated in Christmas."
Two new cast members are Nancy Livingston, a chorus member and understudy for the role of Belle, Scrooge's childhood sweetheart, and Christian Nowicki in the role of Tiny Tim.
"I love it," said Livingston. "The cast is so incredibly close, and I definitely want to keep with it next year."
Nowicki, who is making his theatrical debut with this production, echoed that impression. "I think it's really neat. It's my first time I've ever been in a play," he said.
The rest of the Christmas Carol cast and company, a mixture of old hands and new, includes Ed Wintermute as the Ghost of Christmas Present; Ed Muth as Christmas Past; Roger Compton as Bob Cratchit; Jill Compton as Mrs.
Cratchit; Anita Gutschick, and Andrew Chapin.
Shows are 8 p.m. on Thursdays, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Fridays, 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $3 each.
The production is currently sold out, but cancellations or no-shows are always possible. Please come to the theater at least 15 minutes before the performance for stand-by tickets.
There will also be a special benefit performance of the show at 4 p.m.
on Dec. 9, to benefit The Light House Homeless Shelter. Tickets are $30 each, and will include a dessert reception.
Information: 268-7373 at Colonial Players or 263-1835 at The Light House between 9 a.m. and noon Monday to Friday.