It’s the 38th year for South Coast Repertory’s ‘A Christmas Carol’

When director John-David Keller puts on his holiday scarf, South Coast Repertory’s staff knows it can only mean one thing: It’s time for the theater’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”

A costume designer who made SCR veteran actor Hal Landon Jr.’s red scarf, which he has worn throughout his 37 years in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, made Keller’s scarf that same year.

Keller, who has directed the play since its opening in 1980, began wearing the scarf a couple of weeks ago as the theater began to prep for its 38th annual production. The show opens Nov. 24 and will run through Dec. 24.

He recalled the play’s early days, long before a multimillion-dollar plaza surrounded the Costa Mesa theater.

“Orange County has grown up around us,” Keller said. “All there was around our theater was farmland. I remember when you could walk out of our stage door and pick cabbage.”

Now, SCR has drawn thousands to see the London-based Christmas story about the old, cranky Scrooge and his ethereal visits from ghosts of his past, present and future, who give dooming foresight into his life.

The play will bring back many familiar faces, including Keller returning in the role of Mr. Fezziwig.

Among the many returning actors are Landon, Daniel Blinkoff, Gregg Daniel, Richard Doyle, Oliver Keane, Alex Knox and Art Koustik.

New actors will include 16 students from SCR’s Theatre Conservatory who were chosen through auditions.

Hisa Takakuwa, who performed in the production for more than a dozen years before becoming the conservatory director, also assistant directs the play and works closely with the children.

“It’s really exciting for me each year to see what the kids are learning in class and use it in a professional production on stage,” Takakuwa said. “That part is very special to me. Plus, I get to be a part of seeing them grow up and even watch them take on grown-up roles in the play as they get older.”

Keller said he notices newcomers express awe of Landon.

“Scrooge is not the nicest person, but Hal’s demeanor is very different from his character, so the children are always almost nervous to first hear him talk,” Keller said.

“In fact, (Hal) has two children, who are young women now. But when they were very little, he didn’t want them to see the first act of the play, because he didn’t want them to see what a grouch their father was.”

SCR’s adaptation sticks close to Charles Dickens’ traditional story, and has maintained its format each year — a demand by both its audience and production team, Keller said.

“The thing about it is, we are no longer a play, we are a tradition; and we have to live up to that tradition,” Keller said. “I would say about 60% of our audiences are people that have seen it before and they came back because of how they felt the first time or the fifth time, and they expect to feel that again. That’s our responsibility, and I hope to never disappoint.”

With decades of presenting the same production year after year, both Keller and Takakuwa share the same enthusiasm for the holiday tradition.

“We have truly become an extended family,” Takakuwa said. “I really don’t know what I’d do without this show.”

Added Keller: “Children that were once in the show are now bringing their children to see it. That’s 38 years of tradition and fun and family that we hope to continue for as long as possible.”

If You Go

What: “A Christmas Carol”

When: Through Dec. 24

Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: Ticket prices vary

Information: (714) 708-5555 or

Jackie Moe is a contributor to Times Community News.