For Thespian Society Troupe #775 at Slidell High School, performing a Broadway musical is not unfamiliar as they transport their audiences to the exciting worlds they help create. This year, however, is a special occasion as they are performing a classic holiday story that’s fit for the whole family.
“I feel so blessed that we have been given the opportunity to do this,” said Scott Sauber, troupe sponsor and director of the production. “We first did A Christmas Carol back in the fall of 2013 immediately after we closed Singin’ In The Rain, and Mr. Percy, the principal, was so impressed he asked if we can perform it every other year, and we gladly accepted.”
Based upon the story written by Charles Dickens, the show features an original score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Mike Ockrent and Ahrens co-wrote the script. The musical ran annually at the Paramount Theatre in New York City from December 1, 1994 to December 27, 2003. The original 1994 production was directed by Ockrent with choreography by Susan Stroman, costumes by William Ivey Long, lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, and musical direction by Paul Gemignani.
The story follows Ebenezer Scrooge, an old miser who hates the holidays as a result of several traumatic events throughout his life. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business partner, who tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits throughout the evening. If Scrooge doesn’t learn to change his ways, then he will suffer a fate worse than death.
Not only has Sauber helmed and designed this production, he originated the role of Scrooge in December 2013. “It was important for me to understand the character both physically and emotionally, which is why I decided to portray him. It was amazing to act alongside these talented kids, and watching them grow is always the most thrilling part of the whole process.”
The performance of A Christmas Carol this year was more poignant than ever as Devon Reece Tillman, the young man who originated the role of Jacob Marley, recently passed away due to Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer that occurs in and around the bones. The cast and crew dedicated this production to his memory to honor the impact he’s made on the thespian troupe.
“When I heard the news about Devon’s passing, I was at a loss for words,” said Melanie St. Cyr, music director and conductor the production. “He was wise beyond his teenage years, and had a far better understanding of theatre than most people realized.” For his portrayal as Marley, Tillman received the award for “Outstanding Performance in Music” at the thespian induction in May 2014.
“Giving Devon this honor was special because he’s not a trained singer, but his technique and dedication shined through, and he mastered it professionally,” said St. Cyr.
Sauber, a cancer survivor, corroborated St. Cyr’s statements, and how directing the show this year presented new personal challenges to overcome. “Losing Devon took an emotional toll on everyone, especially myself, so it was very hard at times, but these kids were my driving force because they wanted to make something beautiful as one company; I know he’s smiling down on all of us.”
Nicole Eckrich Dwyer, the choreographer of the production, has retained the spirit of previous incarnations by keeping the movements exactly the same.
“When I first did this show, what I came up with was so good, I didn’t need to change it; everything is so fluid and dynamic, and helps tell the story. I’m amazed they were able to pick it up so quickly.”
All in all, those want to fill their hearts with abundance, charity and goodwill toward men should head to the auditorium of Slidell High School as they will be captivated by the tremendous efforts of these talented individuals.
“We’re not only retelling this timeless tale; we’re celebrating the life of a young man who meant so much to us and this troupe. It’s productions like this that remind me why I chose to become a theatre teacher,” said Sauber.