Mike Baker considers himself lucky. He has the opportunity to play Ebenezer Scrooge every December, and doesn’t have to worry about portraying all of the other characters in "A Christmas Carol."
Charles Dickens wasn’t so lucky. Baker said that in order to make money on his classic holiday tale, Dickens would travel around performing the entire play by himself — from Scrooge to Bob Crachit to the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
"I hear that kind of thing and I think ‘Good Lord, I’m doing one character; to think he did them all,’" said Baker, who will portray Scrooge for the third year in a row at The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s holiday presentation of "A Christmas Carol" scheduled from Dec. 1 through Dec. 10. The play, which runs just over an hour, is the theater’s annual holiday fundraiser. Visit www.thelittletheatre.com for more information and for tickets.
"He’s just amazing," said director Donna Ferragut of Baker. "He’s such a catalyst for the rest of the cast, and he’s willing to take risks in what he does and really play with his character and the extremes of the character. Playful is the best way I can describe it."
BAKER, 53, teaches acting classes for Little Theatre. He said there’s a craft to going from "bah-humbug" curmudgeon to reformed miser at the end of the play. "You just try to find the baggage so you can start out mean and nasty. I think everybody in life morphs and becomes a little more generous," he said.
Baker estimates that this is his 16th production for Little Theatre, starting back in 1984 with a production of "Dracula." He’s worked on stage and on screen, producing a football program for Comcast SportsNet and hosting an arts show on Bravo for several years. "But I love theater. I’ve never been able to get it out of my blood," he said.
In the last two summers, Baker was able to do some Off-Broadway work in New York City. "It reminded me so much of Little Theatre, in the quality of the acting, the quality of the technical support. Anyone who’s ever worked at Little Theatre knows it’s as close to an Off-Broadway theater as you can get. To think that it’s 70-, 80-, 90-percent volunteer is amazing," he said.
That challenge for Baker and those volunteers was bringing a new twist to one of the most well-know Christmas classics on stage.
It was a challenge Ferragut was eager to meet.
FERRAGUT IS the governor for education at Little Theatre, and has worked as a theater teacher in at Bullis School in Potomac, Md., and The Madeira School in McLean.
Was it difficult to stage productions at an all-girls school like Madeira? "I was only there two years, and the first year I was there that’s sort of what the deal was. We did a Charlie Brown thing and that was sort of neutral," said Ferragut. "The second year I put out notice for brothers, cousins and friends of the girls to come and audition."
Just like she found a solution for Madeira’s challenges, Ferragut set out to solve some of the lingering issues she had with the adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" Little Theatre had produced for the last two years. "It was sort of the best [script] I could find at the time. So I said ‘the heck with it,’ and I wrote my own."
Ferragut took a year and went back to the original Dickens novel to adapt some of his language. Her plan was to include more of the production’s cast in the play by giving them more lines. This year’s cast has 13 adults and 11 children, she said, and everyone outside of those playing Scrooge and Bob Crachit play multiple roles. "I wanted it to feel like a troupe of actors putting on a play," she said.
Ferragut’s revised version has a scene-setting prologue that is divided among adults walking around town; the action then shifts to Scrooge’s office. Her script also has an altered ending after Scrooge’s emotional turnaround. "The author had everyone come randomly coming into his bedroom," she said, adding that she now has Scrooge walking through the streets to bookend the beginning of the play.
Above all else, Baker said Ferragut’s version maintains the most important aspect of the story: Dickens’s own words.
"They just go right into your brain," he said.