Christmas is, above all, a time to indulge in time-honored tradition. And Playhouse 22, East Brunswick’s community theater and performing arts group, offers just the thing for those looking to fire up some traditional Christmas spirit.
On Friday, Dec. 9, the theater’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” opens for a limited two-weekend run at the township Cultural Arts Center. It marks the 15th time the theater has mounted a December production of the Charles Dickens classic.
Key to any tradition is consistency, which Playhouse 22’s “A Christmas Carol” boasts in spades. Director Tony Adase has been the man behind each of Playhouse 22’s productions of the show. “Tony’s been the director from the beginning,” said Angela Dohl, the show’s producer. “He adapted the script himself. I came on board as producer in 1997, so this is my 12th production.
“The script and story stays the same. The set and costumes are always slightly different, depending on what we can rent. There can also be small changes in lighting and sound.”
More than just the sets and costumes remain consistent from year to year. This year’s production includes 11 returning cast members and 9 new ones, including a new Scrooge. “We have some set pieces we use year after year, as well as costumes,” Dohl said. “However, most of the costumes are rented. Since we rent from the same place every year, we can get the bulk of the same items, depending on the cast.”
The challenge with any stage production is to keep it artistically fresh from one night to the next, something Dohl notes is even trickier when you’ve been doing the show for a decade and a half. “A repeating show can have its unique challenges. You want to keep it fresh, even though we all know how the story ends,” she said. “And you want people to come back every year to see it and not feel that they’re seeing the same old thing.
“I always look for small ways that we can change set/costumes/sound/lights, even the Christmas decorations in the theater and lobby, to help create something a little different. This year, in addition to on stage changes, we will be utilizing the town’s new grand piano in the lobby pre-show to play Christmas carols while people are arriving. Having at least a few new cast members every year helps. We do need to get new kids every few years as they outgrow their parts.”
While this is the 15th Playhouse 22 Christmas Carol, there was a stretch where the tradition had to be put on hold. “We skipped 2005, 2007 and 2008 when we moved out of the old theater,” Dohl said. “In 2006, we did the show in conjunction with (Piscataway’s) Circle Playhouse at their facility.”
While the audience does include some mainstays, one thing Dohl hopes to see plenty of each year is new faces in the seats. “It is always exciting to see how many new people come,” she said.
“A Christmas Carol” opens at Playhouse 22 on Dec. 9 and runs through Dec. 18. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. All seats are $12. For more information, visit www.playhouse22.org or call 732-254-3939. The Cultural Arts Center is located at 721 Cranbury Road.