Trouper, age 7, takes on Tiny Tim role for CLO show
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Simon Nigam, bubbling with the self-possession characteristic of 7-year-olds and puppies, was ready to get to work. Sure, he said, it will take a lot to get through the upcoming week of rehearsals, but playing the iconic role of Tiny Tim in "A Musical Christmas Carol" could be tougher:
"I need energy to sing and stuff, but to walk and stuff, I don't need energy 'cause I basically just get carried around."
This drew a smile from the grown-ups sitting in the break room at CLO Academy on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Simon, a Civic Light Opera newcomer, and Jonathan Visser, who is playing the toy train vendor and schoolmaster, among other roles, made time to talk Sunday about the upcoming "A Musical Christmas Carol."
The venerable holiday favorite runs Dec. 7-23 at the Byham Theater (tickets, www.pittsburghclo.org). Tim Gregory directs.
"One of the things I love about Tiny Tim, and Simon's Tiny Tim, and the way he's written [in the Charles Dickens novel], is that despite his illness, he is one of the most thoughtful and giving characters in this show," said Upper Lawrenceville's Mr. Visser, who also is making his CLO "Christmas Carol" debut.
"He brings light to that family, that extremely poor family with that very tiny goose, sitting around. He's kind of a shining star."
Simon just lost one of his front teeth and, with the other due to fall out any day. Just in time for Christmas.
Others in the show have been doing "Carol" for many of its 21 years here. For example, Jeff Howell, who plays Bob Cratchit, is on year 18. It's year 5 for Tom Atkins as Scrooge, whose gruff exterior on stage failed to frighten young Simon.
"Nah, he's a jokable guy. Well, Tom is."
Simon remembered seeing the show on stage when he was "two or three." He and his older brother, Oscar, "liked to dress up in costumes and we would do a tiny show, maybe, like, a different version of "The Lion King."
He previously had attended Gemini Theater's summer camp in his Point Breeze neighborhood and joined the CLO fold after his family learned online about its camp. Although "Christmas Carol" was his first audition for CLO, a monologue from a children's book, "The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs," his singing and skill in performing two scenes from the musical won Simon the part.
"Both my wife [Milena] and I definitely are not public sort of people," said his father, Kamal, "so it's really been quite a learning experience for us. I feel I can help my son with his math homework but I can't help him be a better actor."
Mr. Nigam said the cast of "Christmas Carol" has been a second family: "He comes back with fun stories people tell him at rehearsal."
Simon, Mr. Visser said, does him one better when they run lines: "He's got a great memory." Both are working on their accents; Mr. Visser uses three English and one German. Simon added, "I'd say I'm a 'British beginner.' Upper class is more tricky than I thought it would be."
The Falk Laboratory School, where Simon is a first-grader, has been flexible in allowing Simon to miss the upcoming week for rehearsals, and there will be time off when the cast makes special appearances.
"Falk has been really generous about coordinating this, sending his assignments home," Mr. Nigam said.
But the spirit of goodwill and sharing is what the play's about, after all. Even after doing "Christmas Carol" numerous times -- Mr. Visser also performed the play three times with the University of Tennessee's Clarence Brown Theatre -- he said it just gets to you.
"The story is so touching and it means so much to so many people. It's such a poignant story, that there comes this 'shift,' and it happens to me every year. It happened to me yesterday when I was sitting down and eating a bowl of invisible gruel.
"You remember how fortunate you are and how little some people have, and what an amazing and important story this is to the season ... so the cynicism just dissolves away very quickly.
"And the smiles on peoples' faces after the show every year makes it worthwhile ... it's the reason why there are so many productions of this, and why people see it again and again.
"I love doing it every year, especially a very good version."
First Published December 3, 2012 12:00 am