There’s ghosts in them thar hills.
Charles Dickens’ classic holiday ghost story gets the Gold Rush treatment as Sierra Repertory Theatre stages a new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” The foothill company’s show, opening Friday, Nov. 13, has been renamed “A Columbia Christmas Carol” and will feature some familiar faces and local landmarks.
The show will be set in Columbia in the midst of the region’s Gold Rush. All of the story’s famous characters, from Ebenezer Scrooge to Tiny Tim, still will be there, but this time with a decidedly Old West twist. The production has been adapted from its Victorian English origins by Sierra Rep co-founder Doug Brennan and features a cast of local and visiting actors.
Among them will be foothills theater veteran Don Bilotti as Scrooge, who in this staging will be a gold assayer who also sells other precious prospecting commodities. Bilotti spent a dozen years as the artistic director for the neighboring Stage 3 Theatre Company in Sonora, before parting ways in late 2013. This will be only his second show with Sierra Rep, the first coming some 18 years ago, when he worked as a traveling actor.
“I think having local folks in this production, which has been revised, rewritten and adapted to fit the region, makes it feel more like home,” Bilotti said. “There are also a lot of folks from out of town and, boy, what a joy it is working with them. This has been a really fun ride.”
In Brennan’s Columbia version, Scrooge and Marley are partners at the Douglass Saloon. The ghosts of Christmases past, present and future that visit him include a madame, a prospector and a gunfighter, respectively.
Playing Scrooge’s tireless and often thankless employee Bob Cratchit is Portland, Ore.-based actor Nick Ferrucci. The show is his fourth with the company; the others were “Unnecessary Farce,” “All My Sons” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Ferrucci said the well-known holiday tale still remains topical today.
“The lessons we are telling are so relevant with what’s going on in society. We have a long way to go with poverty and the rich giving to the poor,” Ferrucci said. “And it’s about being really grateful. That’s the great thing about Bob Cratchit; he is the Everyman, and so many people can relate to him.”
Playing Cratchit’s youngest son, the famed Tiny Tim, will be Twain Harte sixth-grader Joseph Fitzgerald. Since joining Sierra Rep Junior last summer, Fitzgerald already has become a regular to the foothills stage. “A Columbia Christmas Carol” will be his fourth show with the company. The 11-year-old debuted as Michael Banks in “Mary Poppins” and also appeared in “The Music Man” and “Macbeth.”
He got ready for his role as the frail, sickly Tiny Tim by using a wooden stick from his yard as a crutch and practicing his cough.
“Even though he is on the edge of dying, (Tiny Tim) is still always this happy and lovable character. No one wants to lose him, even though he’s not going to be around for very long unless someone changes it,” Fitzgerald said. “So there’s a message to always be joyous and thankful for what you have.”
A Columbia Christmas Carol
When: Opens 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13; runs 7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays-Sundays and some 2 and 7 p.m. shows Thursdays through Dec. 20
Where: Sierra Repertory Theatre, Fallon House Theatre, 11175 Washington St., Columbia State Historic Park