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Keeping an 'institution' fresh year after year

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Having played Bob Cratchit for two years prior to taking over the helm as the director for the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Michael Evan Haney has been involved in what is now a Cincinnati tradition from the very beginning.

"It's really become a part of my life," he said. "I never thought I'd be involved in a play that would become a city-wide institution. When we started, we didn't even know there would be a second year, but even though it was not critically accepted, it was good in audience numbers."

Every year before rehearsals start, Haney goes back to the original novel and reads it — even though the adaptation uses nearly the same dialog word-for-word.

But he still looks forward to it every year with the goal of putting on a "crackerjack" performance.

"Other groups that do this often allow the quality to slide as the years go by," he said, "but that's just a sacrilege. Dickens is just a sacred as Shakespeare.

The key, he said, to keeping it real is to remember one thing.

"I wrote it at the top of my script: 'It's about Scrooge, stupid,'" Haney said. "The ones that are not successful are those that lose that focus."

For instance, some productions have made that into a lavish, show-stopping production number.

"But you have to remember Scrooge's involvement in the party," he said. "If he's not at the heart of it all, you're in trouble."

Local favorite Bruce Cromer will be humbugging as Ebenezer Scrooge for the fourth year.

"Bruce is a wonderful actor and his Scrooge is special because he never stops working on it," he said. "Each year, he finds something new and closer to the human soul of what Scrooge is.

"I call Scrooge 'the middle-age man's Hamlet' because he goes through just about every human emotion possible."

Also returning are Dale Hodges as the Ghost of Christmas Past/Mrs. Peake, Keith Jochim as Mr. Fezziwig/Ghost of Christmas Present, Todd Lawson as Young and Mature Scrooge, Gregory Procaccino as Jacob Marley/Old Joe, Andy Prosky as Bob Cratchit, Regina Pugh as Mrs. Cratchit, Wayne Pyle as Mr. Cupp/Percy, Tony Roach as Fred, Ron Simons as Mr. Sosser/Topper and Amy Warner as Mrs. Fezziwig/Patience.

"Almost everybody, from Scrooge on down, is a little richer this year and I see some nuances that I haven't seen before," Haney said. "It's like Shakespeare in that the text is so dense with so many levels that you can find all sorts of different ways to use them."

A lot of the production, however, remains exactly the same.

"It's a major decision to change anything," he said, "and you have to have meetings. We changed Marley's entrance a few years ago, and so had to change all the sound and technical cues."

how to go
WHAT: Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"
WHERE: Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
WHEN: Through Dec. 30
COST: $31-$59
MORE INFO: www.cincyplay.com

Bruce Cromer as Ebenezer Scrooge/Sandy Underwood

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