'Christmas Carol' is still very much alive for CLO's Bob Crachit

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The press notes for Pittsburgh CLO's 20th "A Musical Christmas Carol" say that Jeff Howell "is a veteran of numerous productions," but he knew how many right away.

"This will by my 17th, and I've been Bob Cratchit every time," he said. "I was Scrooge for just one performance, I had to go in for Edmund [Lyndeck]. That was a lot of fun."

He missed those three years because he was in other shows, but the holidays were not quite the same without that tradition.

Mr. Howell has shared the stage with fellow "Carol" vets such as Terry Wickline and Tim Hartman (the Fezziwigs and others), Amanda Serra (Ghost of Christmas Past) and Daniel Krepp (Marley) for a decade or more. He's watched Tiny Tims grow up and welcomed new ones; he's seen the CLO's long-time Scrooge, Mr. Lyndeck, give way to Tom Atkins, who returns this year for his fourth go-round in the miser-to-mensch role.

'A Musical Christmas Carol'

Where: Byham Theater, Downtown.

When: Dec. 8-23. 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8-9; 4 and 8 p.m. Dec. 10; 2 and 6 p.m. Dec. 11, 10 a.m. Dec. 14-15; 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16; noon and 4 and 6 p.m. Dec. 17; 2 and 6 p.m. Dec. 18; 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20-22; and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 23.

Tickets: $26.75-$46.75 or half-price for ages 3-14; 412-456-6666 or pittsburghclo.org.

The core group of CLO's cast for "A Musical Christmas Carol" are integral members of the Pittsburgh theater community, and they've enjoyed welcoming new members into the "Christmas Carol" fold over the years. Audience members who have made the show an annual must-see greet them like family.

"It seems like when I meet a stranger in the street, they'll say we've seen it five, 10, 15 times," Mr. Howell said. "It's just a part of their tradition, for their family to come see it. They saw it when they were little kids and now when they are in college and come home for vacation, it's still this family thing. It's kind of neat to see kids grow up watching this show."

With all of the Cratchit kids in the show, dressing rooms can become game rooms to help keep the youngsters occupied between their stage cues. Mr. Howell helps keep them busy, too. His mischievous streak is kept at bay as the "happy, impish, upbeat" patriarch Bob Cratchit, but it shows up when he's backstage. When asked what goes on, he mentions "gaseous sounds kids will make ... hiding out under Scrooge's bed ... all kinds of goofiness."

"There's a time in the first act when I'm offstage for a chunk of time, about 45 minutes, and I just torment everyone, and they look for it," he said. "It's and usually me and whoever is playing Tiny Tim running around together."

For the fourth straight year, the youngest Cratchit will be played by Eli Kodash. The original Tiny Tim 20 years ago was Paul Pakler, who is now 30, living in New York and working in the film industry. Mr. Howell recalled seeing Paul years later and trying to hoist the young man on his shoulders as he does with Tiny Tim in "A Musical Christmas Carol." "Then it was, 'Don't hurt your back!' " he said, laughing. "There have been so many Cratchit kids over the years, it's a long list."

Even after all these years, there's one scene that gets to him, when the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to Scrooge that Tiny Tim will die if things continue as they have for the Cratchits.

"I have people tell me they cry, I cry every year, and my wife who has seen it I don't know how many times, we all cry in the same place. Last year, one of the Cratchit kids just broke down crying, and said, 'I'm a mess, it's just so sad,' " Mr. Howell said. "There's that one moment when the whole house gets quiet, and then you hear all this rustling in the audience. When I've asked people about they say, 'Oh they're looking for Kleenex.' "

"A Musical Christmas Carol" was adapted from the Charles Dickens' novel by David H. Bell, with an eye toward Victorian-era authenticity. The music consists of carolers' classics such as "Silent Night," "Deck the Halls" and "Joy to the World."

Singing those songs and coming Downtown to the Byham Theater for "Carol," amid all the cheery decorations, puts Mr. Howell in a decidedly holiday mood.

"I know there are people who may say, oh, that old chestnut," he said. "We don't feel that way. It's still very special to Tim and Terry and Amanda, all of us. We care about the show and each other. Whether it's a matinee at 10, or at 2, or an 8 o'clock show, we care just as much, every time."

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.

By Sharon Eberson

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The press notes for Pittsburgh CLO's 20th "A Musical Christmas Carol" say that Jeff Howell "is a veteran of numerous productions," but he knew how many right away.

"This will by my 17th, and I've been Bob Cratchit every time," he said. "I was Scrooge for just one performance, I had to go in for Edmund [Lyndeck]. That was a lot of fun."

He missed those three years because he was in other shows, but the holidays were not quite the same without that tradition.

Mr. Howell has shared the stage with fellow "Carol" vets such as Terry Wickline and Tim Hartman (the Fezziwigs and others), Amanda Serra (Ghost of Christmas Past) and Daniel Krepp (Marley) for a decade or more. He's watched Tiny Tims grow up and welcomed new ones; he's seen the CLO's longtime Scrooge, Mr. Lyndeck, give way to Tom Atkins, who returns this year for his fourth go-round in the miser-to-mensch role.

The core group of CLO's cast for "A Musical Christmas Carol" are integral members of the Pittsburgh theater community, and they've enjoyed welcoming new members into the "Christmas Carol" fold over the years. Audience members who have made the show an annual must-see greet them like family.

"It seems like when I meet a stranger in the street, they'll say we've seen it five, 10, 15 times," Mr. Howell said. "It's just a part of their tradition, for their family to come see it. They saw it when they were little kids and now when they are in college and come home for vacation, it's still this family thing. It's kind of neat to see kids grow up watching this show."

With all of the Cratchit kids in the show, dressing rooms can become game rooms to help keep the youngsters occupied between their stage cues. Mr. Howell helps keep them busy, too. His mischievous streak is kept at bay as the "happy, impish, upbeat" patriarch Bob Cratchit, but it shows up when he's backstage. When asked what goes on, he mentions "gaseous sounds kids will make ... hiding out under Scrooge's bed ... all kinds of goofiness."

"There's a time in the first act when I'm offstage for a chunk of time, about 45 minutes, and I just torment everyone, and they look for it," he said. "It's usually me and whoever is playing Tiny Tim running around together."

For the fourth straight year, the youngest Cratchit will be played by Eli Kodash. The original Tiny Tim 20 years ago was Paul Pakler, who is now 30, living in New York and working in the film industry. Mr. Howell recalled seeing Paul years later and trying to hoist the young man on his shoulders as he does with Tiny Tim in "A Musical Christmas Carol." "Then it was, 'Don't hurt your back!' " he said, laughing. "There have been so many Cratchit kids over the years, it's a long list."

Even after all these years, there's one scene that gets to him, when the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to Scrooge that Tiny Tim will die if things continue as they have for the Cratchits.

"I have people tell me they cry, I cry every year, and my wife who has seen it I don't know how many times, we all cry in the same place. Last year, one of the Cratchit kids just broke down crying, and said, 'I'm a mess, it's just so sad,' " Mr. Howell said. "There's that one moment when the whole house gets quiet, and then you hear all this rustling in the audience. When I've asked people about it, they say, 'Oh they're looking for Kleenex.' "

"A Musical Christmas Carol" was adapted from the Charles Dickens' novel by David H. Bell, with an eye toward Victorian-era authenticity. The music consists of carolers' classics such as "Silent Night," "Deck the Halls" and "Joy to the World."

Singing those songs and coming Downtown to the Byham Theater for "Carol," amid all the cheery decorations, puts Mr. Howell in a decidedly holiday mood.

"I know there are people who may say, oh, that old chestnut," he said. "We don't feel that way. It's still very special to Tim and Terry and Amanda, all of us. We care about the show and each other. Whether it's a matinee at 10, or at 2, or an 8 o'clock show, we care just as much, every time."


Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. First Published December 8, 2011 5:00 AM


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