Glendale Centre Theatre’s annual production of the Dickens holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” began 53 years ago.
It happened to be the same year that then-11-year-old Richard Malmos, who is portraying Scrooge in the theater’s current production, played the same role at his elementary school in Houston, Texas.
Now 64 and a voice actor, Malmos’ enthusiasm for the tale that follows one man’s evolution from heartless miser to generous neighbor after being visited by three ghosts hasn’t waned — but his accent has gotten better.
“It’s been a dream to do this since I’ve gotten older, now that I’m close to the real age of Ebenezer Scrooge,” Malmos said. “There’s just so much emotion in the role.”
Despite growing, and graying, into the role, it’s Malmos’ high energy that carries this year’s musical incarnation that runs through Christmas Eve.
While Malmos’ Scrooge scowls and barks “bah-humbug” in the first act — he said he was channeling the emperor from “Star Wars” — a spritely cast sings, dances, emotes and cycles through a range of across-the-pond accents – all while dressed in colorful, 19th-century costumes.
Underpinning the action, which is often humorous, is a retooled script by director James Betteridge, who he said leans closer to the book originally published in 1843.
“Over the years, the script had gotten kind of homogenized, with people changing things here and there” he said.
Betteridge first read the Charles Dickens novel in 1972 — the same year his grandfather took him to see the play at Glendale Centre Theatre.
He auditioned for the play soon after, landing the roles of Douglas Cratchit and Boy in the Courtyard before moving up to eventually play Bob Cratchit for many years.
While Betteridge’s version aims to channel Dickens, some of the darker and densest parts of the source material was excised to make it more accessible, he said.
Paradise Canyon Elementary School students seemed to have no trouble tapping into the 19th century tale during a recent field trip to see the show.
Visual effects, including rolling fog, glowing tombstones and glittering snow, helped keep their attention rapt.
A visual effects designer by trade, Betteridge said several years ago he hand-crafted the Christmas goose eaten by the Cratchit family in the third act, as well as tombstones shown to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Future toward the end of the show.
Introducing the play, producer Brenda Dietlein told the students she hoped they would come back to the 55-year-old theater “for another 55 years and bring your children, because some people do that.”
The third- and fifth-graders from the nearby La Cañada Flintridge school applauded after each scene — particularly when their teacher, Greg Hardash, appeared in the role of Bob Cratchit.
“It’s fun for them to see their teacher out of the context of the classroom, in a whole new life,” said Hardash, who has been performing with the theater since 2005.