`A Christmas Carol' tradition: long ticket lines, cider, song

Show raises spirits on stage, street

November 22, 2006|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Special to the Sun

When he finished his shift at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington at 11 Friday night, Tom Ridgely didn't take the train back to his warm Cambridge home as he usually does.

Instead he drove to the Colonial Players box office in Annapolis. It was midnight when he found a spot as close to the theater door as possible, settled into his folding chair and cocooned himself in a thick sleeping bag.

He managed to get some sleep, until a second person showed up at 4 a.m. with a buzzing space heater.

And thus began the traditional line for tickets to the popular Colonial Players production of A Christmas Carol.

By 8 a.m., a solid hour before the box office was to open, the line stretched down East Street, wrapped around State Circle and down Maryland Avenue. Families bundled themselves in quilts and sleeping bags.

The performance, now in its 25th year, has always brought long lines with it. Families like the Ridgelys make a tradition out of it. Last year, they didn't get the performance they wanted. So this year, Tom Ridgely made sure he was first in line so they could get tickets for the 2 p.m. Dec. 16 show, the only time they could bring the entire family.

Ridgely's wife, Cathie, three daughters and son arrived at 6 in the morning with coffee in hand. The youngest, 4-year-old Zach, was particularly disoriented because of the early-morning rise. His mother coaxed him out of bed telling him to get his flashlight. "We're all going on an adventure," she told him.

Families form the long lines for tickets to A Christmas Carol to honor a long-standing local tradition, and the troupe encourages it by not allowing online purchases for the production. Tickets can only be bought in person or by mail. Standing in line is as much a part of the experience as watching the show, said Carol Youmans, marketing director for Colonial Players.

"Families come for the inexpensive tickets, for the cider and cookies served by the cast. They listen to the carols," Youmans said. "Families come for all of that."

Fran Marchand, who has managed ticket sales for the event almost since it started, said it's the familiarity of the actors and the spirit of the story that bring locals to the show every year.

The crowds, she said, like seeing some of the same faces over and over again. They are faces like Ed Wintermute's. He's been in the production since it was conceived. When he auditioned for the Ghost of Christmas Present role, the music and score weren't yet finished. The music was written to suit his voice, in fact.

At a time when the market is flooded with large auditoriums and $200 tickets, this is personal, intimate theater. Tickets cost $7, and families feel like they can be a part of an Annapolis institution.

The memory that every year, Ebenezer Scrooge picks a little boy or girl to dance with on stage, drew Joma Mangen, Bob Bernadino and Maureen Keogh to the line.

"You see some of the same actors, and you feel like you know them, like they're family," Mangen said.

Over the years, Scrooge has danced with Maureen and with Mangen's daughters, nephews and nieces. The family friends have gotten tickets to the production for more than two decades, hoping to pass on the Scrooge dancing experience to their children and grandchildren.

The threesome got in line about a quarter to 5 Saturday morning. To kill time, Maureen Keogh watched Pirates of the Caribbean on her video iPod until her batteries died. Then she and her brother-in-law, Bernadino, discussed the complicated logistics of which family members are cooking what and when for Thanksgiving.

Others in line fought off the cold by talking about politics - that always gets the blood warm. John Leocha and Bob Stummeier, who bump into each other in this Christmas Carol line every year, nabbed side-by-side spots this year and chatted about how they couldn't believe Martin O'Malley won the gubernatorial election.

"This is the Republican section here," Leocha warned. "We were just talking about how people have a short memory. How it would've been nice if O'Malley had taken care of Baltimore first. How 295 is a disgrace. ... Don't get me going."

Leocha and Stummeier said they've gotten in line for these tickets for the past 20 years.

Stummeier said, "It gets me in the Christmas spirit. It's a tradition. I don't feel like it's Christmas unless I do this and see A Christmas Carol."

To purchase tickets by mail, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope and check to Colonial Players Box Office, 108 East St., Annapolis 21401. There is a limit of eight tickets per customer. List several choices of show dates and times, in order of preference. Show times are 8 p.m. Dec. 7 and 14; 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Dec. 8 and 15; 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Dec. 9 and 16; and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Dec. 10 and 17. Call 410-268-7373 for more information.

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