When Andy Meyers puts on Ebenezer Scrooge’s top hat, he’s got big shoes to fill.
“Scrooge is an interesting role to play, because it’s so iconic,” Meyers said. “It’s a role that everyone knows. Everyone knows what they’re expecting Scrooge to be. That’s a little added pressure.”
Charles Dickens sort of invented Christmas when he wrote “A Christmas Carol” in 1843. His tale of holiday horror and ultimate redemption is where our modern experience of Christmas begins.
Dickens’ novella popularized the term “Merry Christmas,” and is the reason we associate charity with the holiday season. Our notions of what Christmas is are so tightly interwoven with “A Christmas Carol” that the two are now one. Reading or watching “A Christmas Carol” feels like looking into a tinsel-rimmed mirror.
Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past watch the Cratchit family celebrate a modest Christmas in “A Christmas Carol.”
Meyers is playing the famous miser in a touring performance of “A Christmas Carol” put on by Perseverance Productions.
They started in Claremont, New Hampshire right before Thanksgiving, and wrap up two days before Christmas in Farmington, New Mexico.
When he’s not playing Scrooge, Andy Meyers is the artistic director of the Fort Peck Summer Theatre.
In between, the Perseverance troupe perform 24 times across 20 cities, bouncing from Florida to Texas to Wisconsin to, on Tuesday, Dec. 20 and Wednesday, Dec. 21, the Alberta Bair Theater in Billings.
Those Montana dates are a homecoming of sorts for Meyers, who grew up in Missoula and went to the University of Montana.
But Meyers’ big “Montana connection,” as he put it, is that he’s the artistic director at Fort Peck Summer Theatre. From May to September Meyers and company produce shows in the gorgeous Fort Peck Theatre, whose candy cane striped wood panels and distinctive weathervane were built so the families of the men building the Fort Peck Dam during the Great Depression had something to do.
People mingle outside the Fort Peck Theater during intermission of a performance of “The Man of La Mancha” in 2016.
He’s been doing that for 13 years. But, naturally, summer theater leaves you open to freelance during the winters. That’s a big part of what Meyers draws to the job.
“I say I’m based out of New York, because that’s what all artists say,” Meyers chuckled. “That’s where I pay taxes. My goal is to find ways to get to San Antonio and get to Seattle and get to Missoula and get to Billings.”
Andy Meyers, artistic director of the Fort Peck Theatre, stands on the stage in 2016.
Theater brings Meyers all over. In September, he starred in a Missoula production of “Next to Normal.” And he directed “The Spitfire Grill” for Billings Studio Theater in Billings last spring. He’s toured in “Annie,” and played Amos Hart — the character brought to the big screen by John C. Reilly — in a production of “Chicago” last year at the Arizona Broadway Theater.
This run of “A Christmas Carol” is Meyers’ second year playing Scrooge. The character, so ubiquitous his “Bah Humbug” catchphrase became whatever the 19th century version of a meme was, is a unique challenge. So many actors have played him. How can you put a spin of Scrooge that makes him stand out?
“It would be easy to just make Scrooge mad the whole time,” Meyers acknowledged. He raised those concerns to Clayton Phillips, the director of this production, and Phillips challenged Meyers to put his own spin on the character.
Andy Meyers stars as Scrooge in Perseverance Productions’ performance of “A Christmas Carol.”
“My Scrooge is pretty self-aware,” Meyers aid. “The journey and the redemption happen at a different place. You see it start to trickle in right from the start.”
As such, Meyers’ favorite moments to perform on stage are Scrooge’s interactions with his nephew Fred. Dickens portrayed Fred as a sort of anti-Scrooge, friendly and charitable and warm, the exact opposite of his uncle.
“That’s heavy handed in this piece,” Meyers said. “It’s family, and Scrooge’s loneliness that gets him to the point of redemption… That’s where I find the big push to make the change that every one’s waiting for.”
Meyers especially enjoys the scenes with Fred because the nephew is portrayed by Michael Friedman. Friedman isn’t just a good scene partner that Meyers likes connecting with, he’s also the play’s musical director. Because this version of “A Christmas Carol” is a song-filled romp, filled with music and dancing.
Andy Meyers, as Scrooge, stars alongside Tommy Paduano as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
“It’s all the traditional characters conceptualized and arranged in interesting ways,” Meyers said.
Perseverance Productions’ “A Christmas Carol” is in its 12th year of touring. That whirlwind schedule, so many performances in just over a month, can be demanding.
“We drive overnight, put the set up ourselves, do the show, pack it up, and try to sleep a couple hours before heading to the next town,” Meyers described. “It’s a fast and furious schedule. But it’s a good experience.”
“We try to get to a town by noon, and then we can get the setup done by two, and get checked into our hotels,” Meyers described.
Scrooge confronts his own demise with the Ghost of Christmas Future in “A Christmas Carol.”
One way they expedite the whole process is by using giant screens as backdrops. Instead of traditional sets, the “A Christmas Carol” actors act with a mix of live set pieces and these big projections. It’s an innovative approach, and it helps when so much of the play deals with the supernatural. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a portrayed by a giant puppet, all robed and horrid.
But don’t let the big, shiny set and the song distract you. This is still “A Christmas Carol.” There’s a reason this story has been retold over and over again for 178 years. This story is about Scrooge, and the transformation he makes, from bad man to good, from wicked to holy. If he can do it, why can’t we?
“It’s just wonderful to get to share this role,” Meyers said.