MENOMONIE — Auditions for Menomonie Theater Guild’s production of “A Christmas Carol” in October didn’t go as planned, the show’s director said, pointing to a lack of adult males when the “traditional” show’s cast calls for many.
But MTG’s production is anything but traditional, and just over a month later director Marianne Fieber-Dhara wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I said, ‘O.K., what do we do with that?,’ and that opened the door for this real exploration of ‘let’s get the right person in there, regardless,’” she said. “Having to work with what came created this creative opportunity to do things a little differently.”
Looking around at her cast now, she knows she did the right thing. From female cast members playing male roles — in the case of Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchett, for example — and children playing “worker” roles such as miners and sailors, Fieber-Dhara is confident each role went to the right person.
“Even the ghosts — I’ve got a child around 11 or 12 playing the Ghost of Christmas Past, and she came into the audition wanting that role,” she said. “She read very well, so I thought, ‘absolutely.’ ... It’s nice to not have to rely on any specific gender to make this story come to life.”
Fieber-Dhara’s original adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ classic will do just that when it opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts, 205 Main St. E., Menomonie. It runs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 9.
The classic tale follows Ebeneezer Scrooge’s journey from selfish greed to selfless humanitarian with the help of the Cratchett family and Tiny Tim. After deciding to adapt the show, Fieber-Dhara — who has seen the show “several times” — said she took Dickens’ original work and dove in, opting not to view, read or touch any other version until she had completed her adaptation.
“I made a point not to watch anything ... I really wanted to tell the story that I was reading and understanding,” she said. “There’s so much depth to it that when you first look at it you may not see it, but while you’re working, it kept resonating so strong.”
Scrooge’s message that it’s never too late to change the direction of one’s life is well known, but that doesn’t mean it stops being important, said actor Stephen Collie, who plays the man himself.
Collie, who professes to have watched “every version of it that exists,” said he thinks this cast offers fresh faces and fresh voices to a classic tale that continues to be relevant.
“It is so deep and so rich,” Collie said. “I don’t care what perspective you come to this kind of a story with — religion, political or otherwise — you see the power of redemption, and I hope we bring that to life.”
Though Fieber-Dhara stuck to the original story, she also has an acting background and said she wanted to give her performers room to make the characters their own.
That idea has been “liberating” for Kris Winter, who plays one of the charwomen (similar to a maid). With each rehearsal, Winter said her role in the show evolves as she works with the director.
“We’re given permission, and (our characters) can evolve out of the emotion of the scene,” Winter said. “Marianne is willing to say if she likes something or if it doesn’t work.”
Another addition to the cast is the Menomonie Singers, members of the choir group that portray the carolers in the show.Collie and Winter agreed the live choir adds a cohesive element to the show.
“To have those folks be that thread that runs all the way through helps tie things together and makes things move more comfortably,” Collie said.
Whether you’ve yet to see the show or have seen some version of it a million times, Collie assured audiences there is nothing like Menomonie Theatre Guild’s live version of the classic — something that can’t be recreated.
Plus, he added the actors will interact a bit with the audience in this show, something that can’t be found in a movie theater.
“It’s going to be more expensive than a movie ticket, but it’s live; you’re there, you’re really a part of it,” Collie said. “There’s just something magic about a live performance.”