The Old Stone School in Hillsboro could barely contain the cast, the costuming, direction, music and dancing at the rehearsal of “Once Upon A Christmas Carol,” a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Blue tape on the floor designated the performers positions; one or more of the cast blurted out notes to the accompaniment of Diane El-Shafly’s piano; Meredith McMath, the director and co-founder of the theatre group darted in and out of the dressing room while trying to eat her take-in dinner; Kelly Gray led the cast in stretching exercises.
Several impressions were immediate. There was an atmosphere of fun, laughter, mixed with Thespian underpinnings. Once the rehearsal began it was all business and Scrooge did his thing; a 13 -year-old sang with a crystalline tone; veiled muses swung to and fro in time with the music and a guy in chains moaned his lines. Bob Cratchit politely pleaded with his boss, the gruff Scrooge, to have Christmas Day off.
This was just a day in the life of the Run Rabbit Run Theatre Group’s rehearsal. Opening night of “Once Upon A Christmas Carol,” will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 with repeat performances throughout the month at the Franklin Parks Performing Arts Center in Purcellville.
The list of productions by the group reads like a cross section of well known plays. This is the second time for “Once Upon A Christmas Carol,” the first being two years ago; a worthy testimonial for Run Rabbit Run.
The theatre group made its debut in 2010 with “Case 22” at the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival, where it was designated a “Must See” by DC Theatre Scene. McMath and her co-founder Joanie Crane at the helm.
Whence the name Run Rabbit Run?
“I’m a Civil War buff and at the Battle of Gettysburg during Pickett’s Charge a rabbit ran across in front. One of the Confederate troops yelled ‘Run Hare Run.’ And Joanie was taking a test to become a private investigator. As part of the test she had to follow someone without their knowledge. That someone (in PI jargon) is called a rabbit,” McMath said.
McMath has an extensive lineage in entertainment and artistic ventures, including video documentaries on the History Channel. Her special love is developing costumes.
“The costumes are a collection of ones I’ve created over the years. As the granddaughter of a seamstress I learned to sew at an early age; costumes I’ve purchased at historic costume shops or from friends who do accurate historical costuming and several borrowed pieces,” she said.
When she increased the cast of “Once Upon A Christmas Carol” from 24 to 36, she hustled to design the additional costuming.
The group averages three productions a year. Productions this year have included “Family Album,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “All In The Timing.”
McMath seems to have an attachment for each of them for different reasons.
“Most memorable for me is always the last production,” she said, adding with a smile “It might have something to do with age.”
The group runs like a well-oiled machine, each working their part to perfection to perform a memorable show.
Among those is music director El-Shafey who “[fits] the music to the story; describing the characters and moving the story forward.”
El-Shafey admits the acoustics at Franklin Park will be a bit challenging, but the group will adapt.
Sometimes the cast members’ vocal ranges must be adjusted to fit their particular range, she said. El-Shafey wrote the melody and the lyrics for “Once Upon A Christmas Carol.”
“I worked on the music on a flight from San Francisco,” she said.
She described the background story of Scrooge as having a “complex melody line.”
Kelly Gray, the choreographer leading warm-up exercises during rehearsals, said her involvement is enshrined in ‘happiness, joy and fun.” Her biggest challenge, she said, is “working with people who aren’t dancers.” Gray shapes the dancing by “seeing how people move.”
Phil Erickson has taken on the role as Ebeneezer Scrooge and with costume and hair style looks every bit the part. Seemingly his regular job as a social worker doesn’t exactly square with his role in “Once Upon A Christmas Carol.” His biggest challenge in the performance, he said, is “changing from a crotchety old miser to a man who loves life.”
If you go:
Tickets for “Once Upon A Christmas Carol"are $16 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for children 12 and under if purchased online. For tickets and a list of other show times, visit rrrtheatre.org. Tickets at the door are $20, $15 and $12, respectively.
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