By PAM HARBAUGH
Although this will be Rick Roach’s fourth time gluing on the mutton chops and wrinkling his otherwise smiling face into a snarl, he’s utterly delighted to be portraying Ebeneezer Scrooge for the Christmas season.
He’ll be doing that for through Dec. 3 for the Cocoa Village Playhouse production of the musical “A Christmas Carol.”
“I find the character both pitiable and relatable,” he said. “He is clearly drawn as a bitter, mean human being, and yet worthy of saving. He is relatable because he has made choices in his life that have brought him to his miserable existence, and we all understand choices and consequences.”
Sam Henderson, who plays the ghost of Jacob Marley, says Roach really connects with his character.
“He’s wholly in the scene,” Henderson said. “In the ghost of Jacob Marley scene with Rick as Scrooge, he has few lines and still elevates the scene with his expressions and reactions and grabs the laughs. I Love doing theater with Rick Roach. It doesn’t get better than doing scenes opposite Rick. I just doesn’t.”
Certainly, by now you must know the story that Charles Dickens made so famous in 1843. The ghost story concerns curmudgeonly Scrooge, the owner of a counting house (basically an accounting business). The novella begins seven years after the death of Scrooge’s business partner Jacob Marley.
Marley’s Ghost visits Scrooge and warns that he will be visited by three spirits – Past, Present and Future — whose task will be to change Scrooge’s heart.
The musical brings together Broadway big names composer Alan Menken (Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”) and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (“Ragtime”) to tell the story to contemporary audiences.
While the story is set in Victorian London, it especially resonates with American audiences. Live productions of it are popular throughout the country. Hollywood and TV has had their multiple ways the with story in movies starring a host of celebrities including Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, George C. Scott, Patrick Steawart and even Mickey Mouse…to name only a very few. And, the 1988 adaption, “Scrooged,” has become a classic with Bill Murray fans.
While some images of Scrooge picture him as gaunt and angular – all that hunching over piles of money has made him so – Roach finds George C. Scott’s portrayal more to his liking.
But his favorite iteration is the “Black Adder’s Christmas Carol,” which stars the gawky English comedian Rowan Atkinson.
“That’s a real hoot and a must-see for Brit-com fans,” Roach said. “The story (regardless the version) is totally engrained now. ‘A Christmas Carol’ is incredibly enduring and I see no end in sight. “
Roach added that the big payoff is Scrooge’s redemption. That, he said, is why optimistic Americans find the story so appealing.
“For all the cynicism in the world, I think the vast majority of humans are forgiving and love a redemption story,” he said.
Roach’s wife, Jeanette, also a well known performer in the area, said her husband would like to do this show every year. He loves it, she said, for the complexity of the character but also because of an important personal history.
“Rick’s dad died on Christmas Day many years ago,” she said. He is sharing a bit of his dad’s love of Christmas in each performance. After probably a hundred times performing this show, Rick still fights back a tear on stage when the company sings ‘Christmas Together’ in the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him. He seems to find deeper layers to Scrooge’s character each time he plays it and his love and excitement is infectious.”
Born in 1962, Roach has been in the commercial lending profession for more than 30 years — the only thing that’s actually like the Scrooge character. He got involved with community theater in 1992 when he did something he had never done before – audition at Cocoa Village Playhouse. Director Anastacia Hawkins-Smith needed more men for her production of “Oklahoma!” and was thrilled to see Roach among the hopeful men.
“As soon as I got in among all the crazy, extroverted, talented people I felt like I was home,” he said.
Two weeks before opening, the late, beloved Mike Baker had to drop out from his role of Will and Hawkins-Smith put Roach into the spot.
“As an Alabama boy, I knew how to play dumb and country,” he said. “It was such a fun part and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Some of his more memorable roles over time have been Sweeney Todd, Harold Hill (“Music Man”), Jekyll/Hyde, Floyd Collins, Shel Feldman (“Build Me Up Buttercup”), Henry Higgins (“My Fair Lady”) and the Elvis Presley inspired Pharoah (“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”).
“At least with Scrooge, I get to become a good guy, and not end up dead on the floor before the curtain bow.”
Community theater has been critical to a well-rounded life, he said. But for sure, all that work is demanding.
Five weeks of rehearsal means he’s busy 7 to 10 p.m. weeknights and at least 1 to 5 on weekends. Then there’s grueling tech week, which means leaving the theater no earlier than 11 p.m.
Then, the show opens, which gobbles up about four weekends, maybe more if it’s extended, a common occurrence at Cocoa Village Playhouse.
“It’s like having two jobs,” he said. “Laundry piles up. Eating habits devolve. Non-theater friends don’t bother to seek you out because they know the answer: ‘I can’t. I have rehearsal.’
“Oh, and it’s all worth it.”
But “A Christmas Carol” especially resonates, and he’s happy to be reprising his role.
Beyond the crowd scenes, the merrily dressed carolers and bustling London streets, are the moments which grab at Roach’s heart.
The first comes when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge magically back to when he was a young man and lost the love of his life. He listens to his former fiancee’s family sing “A Place Called Home.”
“Ebeneezer knows how it all turned out and is consumed with regret and sadness,” he said. “The lyrics and melody are so strong and moving, and the heartbreak of regret is palpable.”
Of course, Scrooge’s transformation song, “Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today” sums up his change of heart.
“That is a beautiful moment that really gets me,” Roach said. “It is a virtual prayer delivered by the entire company straight to the audience — ‘Let the stars in the sky remind us of Man’s compassion, let us love ‘til we die and God bless us everyone…’til each child is fed, ‘til all men are free, ‘til the world becomes a family… star by star up above and kindness by human kindness, light this world with your love and God bless us, everyone!’
“No truer message is more vital for our world today, and if that moment can lift even just one Spirit, all the work is worth it.”
SIDE O’ GRITS: A CHRISTMAS CAROL runs through Dec. 3 at Cocoa Village Playhouse, 300 Brevard Ave., Cocoa. Tickets are $24 to $32 general with tickets for children (12 years and younger) $18. Call 321-636-5050 or visit CocoaVillagePlayhouse.com or click on their ad.
This is an edited version of a story running in the MELBOURNE BEACHSIDER.