It's the 15th annual production of "A Christmas Carol" by the The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts with performances Dec. 17 to 23.
Over the years the show has evolved, with new and diverse voices added along with the mainstays who have helped what is billed as New England's largest production of "A Christmas Carol" keep running creatively and smoothly.
The production took a particularly interesting step last year when the Cratchit family was depicted as a South Asian family of Indian origin. The nontraditional casting included Sriram Emani and Alka Nayyar as Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit. They return to those roles this year. Meanwhile, John Little will be a new Ebenezer Scrooge for 2022, although Little's name might be recognizable to long-time local theatergoers.
Troy Siebels, The Hanover Theatre's president and CEO, will again be directing his own adaptation of Charles Dickens' 1843 story about the mean and miserly Scrooge and his spiritual redemption at Christmas as he becomes transformed with goodwill.
"There's a lot of things that make this production unique," Siebels said during a recent Zoom conference call that included people involved with several different aspects of the production.
Beautiful scenery, costumes and amazing special effects including a flying Ghost of Jacob Marley coming down to warn Scrooge of pending visitors have always caught the eye. The theater's historic Mighty Wurlitzer Organ provides a charming musical backdrop, and an ensemble cast acts as a narrator of Dickens' tale. Timothy Evans (who also plays the Mighty Wurlitzer) is music director and always has the chorus blending well, and Ilyse Robbins is the show's longtime choreographer.
The new depiction of the Cratchit family last year came about with knowing that in mid-19th century England had begun to colonize India at that time and immigration greatly increased in both directions, Siebels said. The Cratchit family could have been recent immigrants from India.
Questions that immediately came up included what did that mean to the relationship between Bob Cratchit and Scrooge. There are more issues to explore.
"This year, we're digging deeper," Siebels said.
Annie Kerins, associate director, who has had a long involvement with the production and is also playing Mrs. Fezziwig (her husband, Steve Gagliastro is also an associate director for the show and is playing Mr. Fezziwig), said part of that delving further is considering and showing what the Cratchit household might be like as an Indian immigrant family.
Nayyar, Mrs. Cratchit, has also been serving as a cultural consultant for the show.
The production has "an incredibly diverse and creative team," Nayyar said.
"It was important to me think about the representation" of the Cratchit family in their home, Kerins said.
"There are "beautiful nuances (we've) been able to explore," Nayyar said.
In one scene with the Cratchit family at home a Hindu chant has been added, Kerins said.
The Cratchit children are Ajay Jain as Timothy, along with Sahana Sankar, Virat Garikapati, Alexis Anu Thakkallapalli and Vrinda Radhika Vaidyanathan.
"I find this very moving. The message of 'A Christmas Carol" is very universal," Nayyar said.
"Some of the kids are surprised we might be able to sing something we sing at night when we go to bed," Nayyar said. But for the Cratchit's, "Christmas is also important to us as a Hindu family."
"I'm proud of the way it's evolved over the years. It feels more real," Siebels said of the show . "It's London in 1843 seen with "modern eyes." "
"A Christmas Carol" will also feature Jon J Peterson as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, 14-year-old Lillian Rogers as Ghost of Christmas Past, Tye Roberson ("Mozart in the Jungle") as Ghost of Christmas Present and Mark Linehan as Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Cast members are both local (including several youth performers) and from Boston and New York City.
Little, who is from New York, has already been bringing some new elements to his portrayal of Scrooge, Siebels said.
Little has played Scrooge before but "It's been a while. I had a stretch doing it just about every year in different versions, musical and non-musical."
He knows several people in the show from his New York connections as well as the former Foothills Theatre in Worcester.
He was in a national tour of "Cabaret" with Peterson several years ago and knows Kerins and Gagliastro from Foothills. He's also friends with Anita Hollander, a fellow New Yorker who is playing the Charwoman for the second year in a row at The Hanover Theatre.
"It's a very small world," Little said. "It's amazing the number of people we know."
Little and Hollander were interviewed on the phone prior to the Zoom conference call.
Hollander, an actor, director and educator with numerous credits, directed a production of "Ebenezer" at the Triangle Theatre in New York.
Charwoman is one of the characters that Scrooge sees picking over his possessions in his vision of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come after his unmourned death.
"Charwoman is turning out to be the perfect part for me," Hollander said.
Hollander said she is an amputee who lost lost a leg to cancer 40 years ago. "I've been fortunate. I never stopped working," she said.
Still, her casting is a further reflection of the production's spirit of inclusion. "It's great to play the Charwoman. Back in Dickens' time they didn't get good health care. I'm playing Charwoman as someone who had been disabled (and living) in a household. To be able to play this character, I think it's a wonderful opportunity. And she's funny, too. A lot of performers with disabilities don't get cast in fun roles."
Little said "I've known Anita for a long time." Little had another production of "Cabaret" scheduled, this time with Hollander in the cast, but "then the pandemic came along."
Like Hollander, Little has extensive credits which also include HBO's "Boardwalk Empire".
At Foothills Theatre shows he was in included "Ten Little Indians." "Ragtime," "Cabaret," "The Miracle Worker and "To Kill a Mocking Bird." Foothills closed in 2009.
"I've been so lucky to have worked up here," Little said.
Little had auditioned for Scrooge last year but David Sitler, a friend of Little's, was cast. Ironically, Sitler said in an interview last year that he had auditioned at Foothills several times but was never cast by the theater company.
Little said "This year they (The Hanover Theatre) contacted me and asked 'would you be interested in doing it?' I said 'Sure.'"
Hollander also knew from Kerins working together previously. She had to sing "in the Bleak Midwinter" with other potential cast members, which is one of her favorite songs. "What a pleasure to be cast," Hollander said.
Coming to the role of Scrooge again, Little said, "As I've gotten older it's gotten easier to play the age. Now I'm in my 60s I think I'm having these sympathetic pains."
Through the use of narrators The Hanover Theatre production is "taking the dialogue from Dickens and you can't rewrite Dickens. Having said that I think we have developed our own sensibility," Little said.
"One thing that Troy (Siebels) wants to do is bring a fresh perspective to the play. The production is very inclusive, very diverse. They're also using a lot of people from the community. This is Worcester's production of 'A Christmas Carol.' "
There's no questioning the relevance of the message of "A Christmas Carol" for 2022 audiences, Little and Hollander said.
Dickens presents two children whose names are Ignorance and Want.
"Ignorance and Want. I mean, hello, I really think that's totally relevant right now," Hollander said.
"People are so obsessed with making money they've tuned into Scrooges themselves," Little said. "I think this play is so relevant today. It's all too relevant."
Little noted that early in the story two men came to Scrooge's office asking if he will make a charitable contribution for the poor. Scrooge's reply is "Are there no workhouses?" Dickens' father had been sent to a debtors' prison. "That was a huge influence on Dickens. Dickens railed against poverty," Little said.
"He was a great force for social reform. It's ('A Christmas Carol') a story that will probably live on for a another 100 years," Little said.
Little and Hollander are happy to be spending a good part of the holiday season in Worcester.
"I love the decorations," Hollander said, adding that she's the John Stimpson holiday movie "Christmas On Ice" where the Worcester Common Oval is all lit up with Christmas lights.
"For me its wonderful to be back here, and we're not far from the old (Foothills) theater," Little said.
"I walk by that theater all the time. Dickens had a way of going back to a place that he knew. And I kind of feel that's what I'm doing here, getting to relive my experiences here," Little said.
As Siebels revisits "A Christmas Carol," a production he first put on The Hanover Theatre stage in 2008, he said "The most important thing is we realize we don't know everything and we're trying every day day to be better."
"A Christmas Carol"
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 17; 1 and 6 p.m. Dec. 18; 7 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23. ASL and Audio Description available for 1 p.m. Dec. 18 performance
Where: The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts, 2 Southbridge St., Worcester
How much: $28 to $58. www.thehanovertheatre.org; (877) 571-7469
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: The Hanover Theatre's 'A Christmas Carol' has many diverse parts