Take a final bow: Last year of “A Christmas Carol”


It’s a story that has redefined the meaning of Christmas – and the spirit of giving – for decades.

“It gets me deep down. It strikes a nerve in me that is deep and profound,” The Funhouse founder Jim Bredouw said.

This is the fifth and final time that Bredouw will be producing “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens at Orcas Center. Performed every three years as a fundraiser for the Funhouse, it has become an anticipated holiday event for the Orcas community.

Bredouw developed the concept in 1999 when he was helping build the Funhouse.

“’A Christmas Carol’ had a huge influence on my outlook – that giving is more fun than receiving,” he said. “I realized the Funhouse wouldn’t exist without it. So I had this idea as a fundraiser.”

Bredouw called the Orcas Center for guidance, and Deborah Sparks, theatre productions director, offered to help.

“My complete ignorance would have scotched the project if she hadn’t stepped in,” Bredouw said. “Even though I thought up the idea, this is Sparks’ baby.”

As a musician who wrote original compositions for commercials, Bredouw was new to theatre. But he wrote the score and a handful of songs for the play, and Sparks wrote new scenes to accompany some of the music.

After performing it in 1999 and 2000, Bredouw and Sparks decided to produce the play every three years, as it’s such a huge production.

Of the more than 75 cast and crew members, between 15 and 20 have been with the play since its debut. Gabriel Olmsted has played Scrooge for each production.

“He is the definitive scrooge,” Bredouw said. “I can’t imagine anyone else. People who go to theatre in New York, L.A., and San Francisco have told me he is the best they’ve ever seen.”

Olmsted, who now lives in Anacortes, has had to commute for rehearsals.

“It’s a huge effort for him, but he never complains,” Bredouw said.

Other lead roles include Dave Zoeller as Bob Crachet, Susan Osborn as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Gracie Thompson is the Ghost of Christmas Past, David Densmore as Marley’s Ghost, Grace McCune as Belle, Bob Littlewood as the narrator and Fezziwig, John Clancy as nephew Fred, Freddy Hinkle as the head thief, and Martin Lund as the mad keyboard thief. Orcas A Capella, led by Dennis Bonner, will be singing and playing villagers.

This is the final year that Bredouw and Sparks will be putting on the show, but Bredouw is confident that someone else will take over the production, as it’s “such a great story.”

The event raises between $10,000 and $15,000 for the Funhouse. It sells out every year, and because it’s the last year, Bredouw thinks it might sell out before opening night, which would be a first.

The play is 75 minutes from top to bottom, without an intermission. With six songs, 25 musical underscoring cues, and 25 scenes, Bredouw says it feels like a two-hour show.

The cast ranges in age from five to 75 years old, and a quarter of them are young people.

“It’s very gratifying to watch the camaraderie and lack of barriers (between the actors). They all treat each other equally. It’s quite beautiful,” Bredouw said. “We’ve always had teen boys in the show, which is a hard demographic to get. It’s hard to find teens who are willing to come on stage and do a sentimental piece.”

The production has always been emotional for Bredouw, and this year is bittersweet because it’s his last.

“I always cry at every single rehearsal and show. I cried when I wrote the songs,” he said.

Bredouw says Sparks makes him write a new song for each production, so the audience will be hearing a fresh tune. Also new is McCune’s children’s choir, which will open the show.

Sparks calls her involvement with the play “a gift.”

“I enjoy writing adaptations of books into plays, so that was a great opportunity and gift Jim gave me when he decided to do this story and asked me to write it,” she said. “And then, adding his music, that was so exciting to me. Doing a project with the same people time after time is like working with a finely tuned ensemble. Aside from rehearsals going swiftly, each little addition or change becomes a special moment that we can all appreciate together as we work. It has been all the best parts of a family reunion – we come together with an intention to have fun and be creative, then we go off to our own lives, knowing we will happily do it again, sometime. This being our last time together, in this way, only means our collective interpretation of this aged old story gets to evolve into something new in the future.”

Sparks says that aspect is one of the best parts of theatre.

“It’s an art form that reinterprets a story over and over, so that the story, like our culture, lives on and evolves as imaginations evolve.”

Dates and times

“A Christmas Carol” will be performed Wednesday through Saturday, December 16 to 19, at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, Dec.19, there will be a performance at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $24, $20 (Orcas Center members), $15 (students and seniors), and $7 (for the Saturday matinee).

Soup and chili served before “A Christmas Carol”

The Orcas Center Board of Trustees offers a Holiday Soup and Chili Supper one night only, on Wednesday, December 16 beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The supper will be served in the Madrona Room prior to the opening night performance of “A Christmas Carol.” The meal includes a choice of chili with meat, minestrone with chicken or vegetarian minestrone, salad, roll or chips, hot cider or apple juice, and dessert. The cost is $10 for adults and $8 for children 12 and under. Wine is also available for sale. All net proceeds benefit Orcas Center’s programming and operations.