Modesto Performing Arts gets in the ‘Christmas’ spirit

Carl Bengston plays Ebenezer Scrooge in Modesto Performing Arts’ production of “A Christmas Carol.”
Carl Bengston plays Ebenezer Scrooge in Modesto Performing Arts’ production of “A Christmas Carol.” aalfaro@modbee.com

Timeless classics remain timeless classics for a reason.

Modesto Performing Arts returns to the classic holiday story “A Christmas Carol” for the sixth time in its more than 45-year history. The production by Modesto’s oldest community theater group is its first of the Charles Dickens holiday staple since 2012.

“It was time to bring it back because it’s one of the iconic performances of Christmas. We revive it every couple of years; this was the year,” said MPA founder and artistic director Paul Tischer. “It kind of defines Christmas.”

The MPA performance helps kick off a season of holiday shows across the Central Valley and foothills. The community theater group will stage “A Christmas Carol” over Thanksgiving weekend, Friday-Sunday, Nov. 27-29, at Gallo Center for the Arts.

Unlike the production of the Dickens story running at the Sierra Repertory Theatre, which gives the Victorian story a Gold Rush twist, the MPA version will stick strictly to the book.

“This is as traditional as it gets, and I’m very proud of that. I like that,” Tischer said. “It’s exactly as Dickens wrote. I think if he were to see it he’d be very proud. I’m one of those people who says, ‘Let’s do what the author intended and don’t change it.’ 

That means period costume, a cast of 30 and veteran actors in key roles. Those include a trio of friends and MPA regulars leading the cast: Carl Bengston as the show’s central miser Ebenezer Scrooge, Marty Cox as his former partner Jacob Marley, and Ray Leverett as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

All three men have performed with the company for decades, and enjoy coming back together for shows.

“We like seeing each other. It’s a camaraderie. We enjoy acting and being in each other’s company,” Leverett said. “We look forward to being in these plays together.”

Oakdale resident Leverett has appeared in several MPA productions, including “Man of La Mancha,” “Babes in Toyland” and “The Music Man.” Since 1999 he’s performed about 25 shows for MPA. But he is perhaps best known for playing Santa in the Oakdale Cowboy Christmas craft show for the past 20-plus years.

Bengston said stepping into a character like Scrooge has been a privilege.

“It’s a true community production. People who come to see it will recognize their friends and neighbors and family in the production,” he said. “That’s a great opportunity for everyone involved. It’s great for local talent to do a classic story like this.”

Rounding out the cast is David Finley as the Ghost of Christmas Present; Carma Mize as the Ghost of Christmas Future; Dean Medek as Bob Cratchit; and Aiden Arrietta and Cameden Van Lewen sharing the role of Tiny Tim.

Cox said the redemptive moral of “A Christmas Story” is one that continues to resonate through the ages.

“It’s about second chances, the chance to start at the beginning and do it right this time,” Cox said. “Most humans resonate with that – the idea of being redeemed.”

And then, of course, there is its seasonal appeal.

“I think ‘A Christmas Carol’ gets more to the heart of the Christmas spirit in a very traditional way,” Tischer said. “It brings tears to your eyes, as it should.”

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland

A Christmas Carol

What: Presented by Modesto Performing Arts

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Nov. 27-28; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29

Where: Foster Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto

Tickets: $20-$25

Call: 209-338-2100

Online: www.galloarts.org

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