What the Dickens is going on in Jackson this Christmas?

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Photo by Greg Campbell

Scrooge encounters Marley along with a host of other ghosts in New Stage Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas.”

For such a miserly gent, Ebenezer Scrooge is sure generous with his story.

Each Christmas, book shelves, stages and screens feature Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas
Carol,” from traditional takes to new-fangled twists. But no matter how vintage Victorian or new and novel, all preserve that golden nugget of a transformed heart at the core.

In Jackson, New Stage Theatre has logged plenty of “A Christmas Carol” mileage over the
years. This season’s production will be its 25th since its first staging in 1984. This one, an
adaptation by Michael Wilson, is the fifth adaption to grace that stage; Peppy Biddy is the 14th director at the helm (and his second time to do so).

“It’s not just at New Stage,” artistic director Francine Thomas Reynolds says of the story’s
frequent appearances. “People love the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ — it’s ecumenical, one, and universal, two, and, three, I think the story of redemption is what draws people in.”

The focus on the home with the Cratchit family, and the kindness and generosity of the holiday season, resonate, too. “It’s not about material things. I think people want to be reminded of that.”

Another Jackson arts mainstay, Ballet Magnificat!, is tackling “A Christmas Carol” for the first time this December, with creative director/resident choreographer Jiri Sebastian Voborksy in the role of Scrooge.

Czech-born Voborsky didn’t grow up with “A Christmas Carol.” “In a non-English speaking world, Charles Dickens is not super popular,” he explains. His first introduction to the tale? A Barbie adaptation his daughter, Maya, watched. “I remember it being kind of dark.” After a fellow dancer, Anna Bentley, suggested it for a new ballet, it was time to revisit the story, and the 1984 movie version with George C. Scott brought Voborsky up to speed.

The challenge was tailoring the story to the stage, and to the Jackson-based Christian ballet company’s mission. “As the Lord always does it, I was driving to work one day, and with the idea of taking Scrooge to Christmas Past, I thought of him being taken to Bethlehem and seeing the birth of Christ. It fit beautifully. And then, taken to the Christmas Future — Heaven, to see the Bride of Christ and the last battle with Satan,” Voborsky says. Then, Christmas Present and the question of Scrooge’s salvation, “or if he’ll keep going down the path of loving money and losing life.”

Photo by Sherry Lucas

Jiri Sebastian Voborsky (center) portrays Scrooge, amid figures representing money and greed, in a rehearsal for “A Christmas Carol” at Ballet Magnficat! studios.

The new ballet includes spirits, ghost of Jacob Marley, impoverished yet devout Cratchit family with sickly Tiny Tina (a petite ballerina in the role) trusting the Lord for provisions, Fezziwig’s big party and company founder Kathy Thibodeaux, cloaked in striking black, as Death. “There’s a lot of hope in it, too, hopefully,” Voborsky says. With 115 dancers — company dancers, trainees and School of the Arts children — and 260 costumes, it’s a huge production.

Size is part of the annual appeal at New Stage, too, with its big cast and wide range of roles, including some for kids. “It’s a show for the community to be involved in,” Reynolds says.

Photo by Michael George Photography

The Cratchit family in New Stage Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas.”

Actor Turner Crumbley, now in his second turn as Ebenezer Scrooge at New Stage, figures he’s known “A Christmas Carol” “since I was in single digits.” His own history onstage and offstage with the show has meandered through younger roles, ghostly roles, “less bald roles,” he jokes, and, several years ago, even the director’s chair. “I think it’s safe to say I’m a fan.”

Still, “I don’t think anybody knows it inside and out. I think that Charles Dickens crammed an awful lot of really unique story and detail into it. … I think there’s always something new to discover about them,” Crumbley says.

“The play can only capture so much of the book,” Biddy says, “but, we keep going back to the book as a resource,” with its vivid and imaginative descriptions — so rich for actors bringing the story to life.” Biddy, too, has a foundation with the tale that stretches back decades. He calls up a snapshot to prove it — “with my muttonchops from 1980-something. And hair. And plaid pants,” he says, laughing at the memento from an ensemble role in a Dallas production back in the day.

The Michael Wilson adaptation at New Stage, “A Christmas Carol, a Ghost Story of Christmas,” focuses on the three ghosts and Scrooge’s journey with them that ultimately leads to revelation and redemption. “This particular version takes it one step further,” Biddy says, “and creates a set of ghosts that are not named, but are described in the script as being from different centuries,” with Marley accompanied by other apparitions who drive the action by transporting Scrooge to other realms.

“Scrooge is nothing if not well-written, from Dickens all the way through this adaptation,” Crumbley says. “He’s incredibly well-described, by himself and by others, so it’s clear as bells about what you need to do.

“At the end of the day, he’s the hero of the story. He’s the protagonist of the story, but he’s certainly an offbeat hero. He’s a real take on the everyman.

“It’s a real delight that we get to see what forms him in the past, how it informs him in the
present, and how he’s affected by the future that he could create by staying on the path and following the intentions that he seems to have followed most of his adult life — miserly and inadvertently cruel as they are.”

A course correction choice lies before him, as it does for all.

Performances of “A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas” at New Stage Theatre are Dec. 5-22, with public performances at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5-7, 11-14 and 17-21 and at 2 p.m. on Dec. 8, 15 and 22. Tickets are $35 for adults, $30 for students, seniors and military. Call 601-948-3533 or visit www.newstagetheatre.com.

Performances of “A Christmas Carol” by Ballet Magnificat!” are at 2 p.m. Dec. 21-22 at Thalia Mara Hall. Tickets are $20-$60 at balletmagnificat.com/scrooge or 601-977-1001.