Tag Archives: Rep.

Jonathan Smoots finally gets Scrooged at the Rep

It’s common for Milwaukee Rep actors to shuffle through various roles in the company’s annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but Jonathan Smoots has taken it to a new level.

Smoots has been the gravedigger, a chorus director and a philanthropic solicitor. He’s portrayed Mr. Fezziwig, Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas past and present. 

About the only roles he’s missed, he says, are Bob Cratchit, nephew Fred and Old Joe, the pawnbroker of Christmas Future. And Scrooge.

But that’s about to change. After participating in 15 productions of A Christmas Carol and understudying the role for a decade, Smoots will finally don the humbug’s nightshirt this year.

Smoots has technically played “a” Scrooge before, taking on the role of Young Scrooge in 1981, in both his first Rep Christmas Carol and his first Rep show. At the time, the role was a one-off, with Smoots playing roles in a handful of other productions that season. Then he made only occasional appearances with the company until 1998, when yet another Christmas Carol brought him back to the Rep. He’s been in Carol almost every season since, drawing closer and closer to the role he’s desired for years.

“I love the story so much,” Smoots says. “I love the character. There are not many characters where you can bring all your dramatic abilities to playing the role honestly, and then in the last fifth of the play you get to use all your comedy skills.”

He hoped to get the role during the 2012 season, when Aaron Posner was announced as the new director for the production. He even reached out to Posner directly to pitch himself as Scrooge. But being new to the Rep, Posner instead decided to work with someone he already knew: Christopher Donahue, who played Scrooge that year and in 2013. 

But Smoots got another opportunity this year when Donahue said he wasn’t returning for a third year as Scrooge. “He told me, ‘I’m not one of those actors who can repeat a role year after year after year. It’s just not in me,’” Smoots says. He acted fast, reaching out to Posner and artistic director Mark Clements about the role the same day, even before Donahue had a chance to inform them himself. The Rep didn’t make the decision on the spot, but by this spring, Smoots knew he’d be the next actor to play Scrooge on the Pabst stage.

Then Smoots had to figure out what sort of Scrooge he is.

Every year, the Christmas Carol understudies perform an understudy run, and in 2013 Smoots says he found himself unusually unsettled, playing the character differently in every scene. “Over the years, it fell out of focus for me, because it seemed unlikely that I was ever going to go on,” he says. “I lost the drive and the urge to zero in on something specific and consistent, a real character.”

So this year Smoots hit the reset button. He went back to read the original Dickens novella — much of which is preserved in the language of the Rep’s adaptation, co-written by former artistic director Joseph Hanreddy and Edward Morgan — and worked on keeping his interpretation of Scrooge simple and honest.

Doing so has led him to new interpretations of Scrooge’s journey, especially in the play’s second half, when he reflects on the present world and the potential future that lies ahead. Smoots says his Scrooge realizes he lived his life poorly as early as the end of Act I, making the second act all about learning that he still has the ability to change his ways — and the lives of those around him. 

He’s worked with Posner on changes to the script that better support that thesis. For instance, it’s always bugged him that the play’s final scenes seem to give the impression that it’s simply seeing himself dead in the future that inspires Scrooge’s change in behavior.

Smoots explains: “We’re all going to die. That shouldn’t be a surprise. … It’s not his death that shocks him to say, ‘I can make a change; I will make a change.’ It’s Tiny Tim. It’s Bob Cratchit. It’s giving that little boy who came to his office a coin. It’s the full realization that life can be so much more, and so much fuller.”

The simplest example says it all. In prior productions, Smoots says, Scrooge wakes up after the spirits’ visitations shouting, “The time before me is my own! I’m alive! Alive!”

But back in the original Dickens, and now in the Rep’s production, the sentiment is more complex, and more moving: “The time before me is my own — to make amends.”

ON STAGE 

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of A Christmas Carol runs Dec. 2–24, at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St. Tickets range from $25 to $85 (subject to change) and can be purchased at 414-224-9490 or milwaukeerep.com.

Wisconsin holiday stages sparkle with tradition

It’s time to celebrate the season onstage, and Wisconsin offers a theatrical Christmas stocking full of choices to get you in the holiday mood.

Bah! Humbug!

The Milwaukee Rep brings back Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, everyone’s favorite morality tale of greed and redemption. Dickens penned the original novella over a six-week period in the fall of 1843 because he needed the money, but it was an immediate success and remains the English-speaking world’s most popular Christmas story. Scholars see it as an indictment of 19th-century industrial capitalism. 

Now in its 38th year, The Rep production was adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and Edward Morgan. Aaron Posner, who directed last year’s lauded production, is once again at the helm. A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 24 at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theatre. (www.milwaukeerep.com).

Children’s Theater of Madison brings its annual production of A Christmas Carol back to the Capitol Theater at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts Dec. 13–23. American Players Theatre’s James Ridge reprises his role as Scrooge. (overturecenter.com/production/a-christmas-carol.)

The West Bend Masonic Center will host a community theater production of the Dickens classic performed in the round and with an accompaniment of Victorian Christmas carols. Performances run Dec. 5–8 and Dec. 13–15. (www.westbendchristmascarol.com)

The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton will host Nebraska Theater Caravan’s traveling production of A Christmas Carol on Dec. 4. (www.foxcitiespac.org/events/christmas-carol)

Wausau Community Theater performs its version of the holiday favorite Dec. 13–15 (www.wausaucommunitytheatre.org).

For a less-than-reverent look at Ebenezer Scrooge, try A Kick in the Dickens 2 at The Alchemist Theatre in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood. Some original songs and comedic skits create an impromptu one-act “lost Charles Dickens play” based on audience input. There’s a full bar for a not-so-silent night of holiday frolic. The show runs Dec. 5–28 (thealchemisttheatre.com).

Many gappy returns

Anyone unfamiliar with It’s a Wonderful Life, film director Frank Capra’s 1946 holiday tearjerker, must not own a television. Those who want a slightly different take on the story can catch Next Act Theatre’s It’s A Wonderful Life: Live Radio Show. Actor Mary McDonald Kerr’s adaptation takes audiences to a vintage 1940s radio production studio for a performance that’s complete with live music, sound effects and a little Milwaukee nostalgia. The play runs Dec. 12 through Jan. 5 (www.netxact.org).

Ready for a little M’waukee Christmas dere, hey? In Tandem Theatre Co. is bringing back A Cudahy Caroler Christmas for youse guys dat know how to celebrate Cream City style. Join Stasch, PeeWee, Edna and Trixie as they warble their way through all your holiday favorites, including “We T’ree Guys from Cudahy Are,” “O, Bowling Night” and other seasonal favorites that will surely brings tears of laughter and put lumps in your eggnog. The production runs Nov. 29–Jan. 5. (intandemtheatre.org)

For those who like their Christmas Carol with a slightly more colorful spin, Madison’s Stage Q is producing Scrooge in Rouge, the perennial favorite that pits three actors against the 23 roles in Dickens’ holiday classic. In addition to the true meaning of Christmas, audiences will learn that “Ebenezer” rhymes with “geezer,” “teaser” and “squeeze ’er.” The show has nine weekend dates Dec. 6–21 at Madison’s Bartell Theater. (www.stageq.com)

For a little off-base humor, Chicago’s Second City is bringing its Nut-cracking Holiday Revue to Madison’s Barrymore Theatre on Dec. 18. The sketch comedy artists promise to capture all the magic, mystery and mayhem of the season with new bits and classic favorites. (www.barrymorelive.com).

O, Holy Night

Christmas operas are few and far between, but Gian Carol Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors surfaces every now and then. The one-act opera tells the story of a shepherd boy and his mother who receive a visit from the Magi on their way to Bethlehem. This production features the students of Viterbo University at the Fine Arts Center Main Theater in La Crosse. The opera is presented on Dec. 7 and Dec. 8 (www3.viterbo.edu/Templates/three-col-menu-fac.aspx?id=17179869419).

Not quite the holidays, but somehow appropriate

Door County’s American Folklore Theatre helped the late writer and lyricist Fred Alley become a star, and one of Alley’s and composer James Kaplan’s favorites is back for a limited run at Madison’s Barrymore Theatre. Guys on Ice tells the uniquely Wisconsin tales of buddies Marvin and Lloyd and the trials and tribulations of life in an ice fishing shanty. The show, featuring performers Doug Mancheski and Steve Koehler, runs for five weekend productions Dec. 19–29 (www.barrymorelive.com).

And all those ‘Nutcrackers’

Ballet is not a common family entertainment, but that hasn’t stopped Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker from becoming entertainment’s top holiday draw. Maybe it’s the sword-wielding Mouse King, the Christmas tree that grows to giant proportions or all those kids in the cast, but you can find productions of the ballet just about anywhere snow falls on the Badger State in December. Here is a list of choices:

Milwaukee Ballet, Dec. 14–27, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee (www.milwaukeeballet.org)

Madison Ballet, Overture Center for the Arts, Dec. 14–24. (www.madisonballet.org)

Green Bay Nutcracker Ballet, presented by the Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization at Meyer Theatre, Green Bay, Dec. 7–9 (www.meyertheatre.org)

Central Wisconsin School of Ballet, Wausau’s Grand Theater, Dec. 7–8. (www.cwschoolofballet.com/nutcracker)

La Crosse Dance Center, Viterbo Fine Arts Center, Dec. 13–14 (www.lacrossedancecentre.org)

Nutcracker in the Castle, Paine Art Center and Gardens in Oshkosh, Nov. 22–Jan. 6, (www.thepaine.org)

The Dance Factory, Young Auditorium at UW-Whitewater, Dec. 14. (www.uww.edu/youngauditorium/season/nutcracker)

Valerie Harmon in Milwaukee Ballet’s 2012 production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Jessica Kaminski

Scandalous pix posted of Mary Bono Mack

An online publication has posted pictures that show U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., in a compromising position with another woman.

In the pictures posted by Radar Online, Mack is having her breasts licked by Edra Blixseth, a major Bono campaign donor and former billionaire who is currently under investigation for fraud by the FBI. The photos allegedly were taken during an event at Blixseth’s $75-million estate in Rancho Mirage four years ago.

Radar Online’s sources said Mack “was blitzed and clearly having a great time” at the function.

Julie Bornstein, Mack’s 2008 congressional challenger, said the congresswoman’s partying ways are well known in both California and Washington.

“Several women in the California Congressional delegation were embarrassed repeatedly by Mary Bono’s behavior and conduct in the Capitol and encouraged me to run because of the embarrassment she brought to the legislature,” Bornstein told Radar Online.

Mack is the widow of the late Sonny Bono, who was elected to Congress in 1995. She took over Bono’s seat after he was killed in a Nevada ski accident in 1998.

In November, Mack won her re-election bid over Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, who is openly gay.