On Dec. 2 through Dec. 5, the Samford Theatre Department performed the musical “A Christmas Carol” in the Wright Center. From glitzy jazz numbers to harrowing hauntings, the Wright center stage was graced by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future in a musical interpretation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel.
With a cast of 50 students and several parts being double cast between performance nights, this was a major production that took the efforts of the entire theatre department.
Director Chelsea Nicholson discussed the immense responsibility of coordinating such a large production.
“I’ve never been the captain of a cruise ship, but I would imagine that’s a good analogy aside from the fact that no one’s lives are in my hands,” Nicholson said. “Not only do we have 50 in the cast, we also have a crew of 50, and a team of designers, and an orchestra. It’s my job as director to ensure we get to opening night with a successful show, and working in a space this large magnifies everyone’s responsibilities.”
While mainstage performances usually take place in Harrison Theatre, this year “A Christmas Carol” was performed in the Wright Center.
“We do a performance in the Wright Center every three to four years, and this seemed the perfect way to celebrate the Christmas season with our campus and community after a long, trying 20 plus months,” Nicholson said. “I know it will be absolutely electric for the students to perform for a much larger volume of people than usual, so I am so excited to get that energy in the space!”
The two students cast in the lead role of Scrooge were Garret Coppock and Rachel Bass.
“I wasn’t intending on casting a woman as Scrooge, yet both Rachel and Garrett both exuded Scrooge in their initial auditions and callbacks, so I was ecstatic to give them both the opportunity,” Nicholson said.
This is not the first time genderblind casting has been used on a Samford stage. Bass herself played Dr. Lyman Hall in the 2019 production of “1776”. Even within “A Christmas Carol,” Bass is not the only genderbent actress. Sam Riggs, Christina Ledbetter, and Ava Williams also play male characters throughout the show.
While the decision to cast a 21-year-old woman as an elderly man presented costuming challenges, Instructor of Costume Design Mary Gurney embraced the opportunity.
“You work with what you’ve got, and we are a department with a majority of females,” Gurney said.
Another challenge was ensuring that the costumes provided mobility for actors so they could dance. Because there are so many musical numbers, the costume team needed to balance mobility with historical accuracy.
“One of my students, Abigail Williams, was so instrumental in helping us determine what type of skirt we needed to put because she was at the dance calls every night,” Gurney said.
Gurney accepts these challenges with joy, embracing the opportunity to devise creative solutions in order to help her students transform on stage.
“I think one of the special things about theatre for me is the moment the actor puts on their costume and you literally watch them transform. They become that character. They can see themselves truly as that character for the first time, and there’s a little bit of magic,” Gurney said.
In a televised interview on Talk of Alabama on Dec. 1, Bass discussed what she hoped audiences took away from the show.
“I think Christmas Carol is just a wonderful story of finding and reclaiming the Christmas spirit,” Bass said. “Especially this year, where everything has seemed a little bit bleak.”
In a world full of Scrooges, Samford Theatre reminds us of the joy of the holiday season. In a performance rich with singing, dancing and delight, the theatre department brought Christmas cheer to the Wright Center stage just before students headed home for the holidays.