WVXU's 'A Christmas Carol': Behind The Scenes Of The One-Man Performance

Dec 21, 2020

Not only did Bruce Cromer do all the voices for WVXU's A Christmas Carol, but the actor also had to trim Charles Dickens' actual reading script to fit the one-hour radio drama.

A Christmas Carol: A Radio Play, which premieres 8 p.m. Wednesday Dec. 23, was envisioned by Blake Robinson, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park artistic director, as a one-man performance by Cromer, who has starred as Ebenezer Scrooge since 2005 at the Playhouse.

"Blake gave me Charles Dickens' actual reading script (from when) he would do public readings of A Christmas Carol," said Cromer in a Dec. 14 interview with Cincinnati Edition host Michael Monks.

Credit Mikki Schaffner/Playhouse in the Park

Cromer, a Wright State University theater professor, read Dickens' draft "at full speed," and "it turned out to be about 58 minutes." That was definitely too long, and didn't provide for squeaky doors, counting money, Old Fezziwig's holiday parties and other sound effects to stir the imagination.

"So the first process for me was cutting it," Cromer said.

Robinson originally planned for Cromer to perform the one-man show in the Marx Theatre for the Christmas season, eliminating the large cast due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"In many ways, that would have felt like a betrayal of the rest of the company," said Cromer, who had played Bob Cratchit before taking over the lead role. His son also has appeared in the production the past two years. "As it turned out, of course, that proved to be unsafe and impossible to do."

Cromer recorded the program from his home. Sound designer Matthew M. Nielson added the music and sound effects.

A member of the Actors' Equity Association (the American stage actors' union) since 1981, Cromer has appeared in more than 175 professional regional theater productions, including a one-man Romeo and Juliet with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. He enjoyed the challenge of bringing all of Dickens' characters to life, some better than others.

Credit Mikki Schaffner / Playhouse In The Park

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future allowed the actor to be very creative.

"The thing about the Ghosts that I love so much is that they're a blank page. Scrooge talks a lot about their appearance, but their sound (isn't mentioned). They've been the most fun," he said.

"But I find that I'm not a very good woman. I've tried on stage in the past… and the sound is never exactly right."

It's cool, he said, that we're turning back the clock this Christmas, as families and friends will gather around the radio to hear the Dickens' classic, as people did 75 years ago.

"Lionel Barrymore used to do this during the war years. Like with Dickens, it was a product you couldn't wait to get. With Dickens it was, 'When is his next book going to be published?' With Barrymore, it was the American public being able to gather around the radio as a family, and hear this wonderful voice coming through the airwaves and telling this story."

As they say, the pictures are better on radio.

"It's something very unique, how your imagination fills in so much," he said. "You can just do the suggestion, and the audience sees what the locale is, the atmosphere, etc. It is more engaging in terms of what does the audience bring to it."

The good news for A Christmas Carol fans is that the show must go on – even if it's on radio this crazy COVID year. His Facebook friends are "so excited they're going to be able to hear this radio adaptation. But again, they're hoping that next season they're going to be able to sit in the Marx Theatre and see all those wonderful, familiar faces again."

A Christmas Carol: A Radio Play airs on WVXU-FM (91.7) and WMUB-Fm (88.5) at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23, and 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve. After that, it will be available for streaming at wvxu.org or download via the station's app.