The Territorial Christmas Celebration, with the Pollard Theatre sitting right in the middle of historic downtown Guthrie, is the highlight of the city’s holiday season.
In 1987, The Pollard Theatre’s original company sought to produce a Christmas play that would align with the territorial timeframe and Christmas festivities. They commissioned Oklahoma-based playwright Stephen P. Scott to produce something Oklahoma and Guthrie audiences would relate to, and above all, enjoy. Scott adapted Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol” into a localized, statehood-era play, and thus A Territorial Christmas Carol was born. For 30 years, the play ran every holiday season on the Pollard stage.
In this reimagined telling, a young settler family in Indian Territory is sitting down to a lonely Christmas Eve dinner. The setting is just four years after the Land Run of 1889, and Oklahoma is not yet a state. When a mysterious traveler knocks on their door, they welcome him in and offer him a meal in exchange for a story. The story he tells is one we all know. Ebenezer Scrooge, the would-be villain of his own tale, faces ghostly visitations and timely reparations as he is forced to look at his own life on a fateful Christmas Eve. The addition of the localized setting and the family on the prairie gives this production a unique and personal touch. Suddenly, Scrooge is not so far away, removed from the audience in Victorian London. He is here, one of us.
Original Pollard company member James Ong played the role of Ebenezer Scrooge for 15 years. An entire generation of actors, technicians and theatre patrons alike grew up with Ong as their Scrooge and looked forward to his performance every year. Patrons — more than 150,000 over the past three decades — have traveled from all over the state to make the performance part of their own family traditions. The untimely death of Ong in early 2018, followed by the death of Scott later that same year, led The Pollard company members to put the production on pause.
“We took a break after our final show in 2017 for many reasons, but at the center of the decision was the passing of our dear friend, James Ong,” Pollard Artistic Director Jared Blount said.
After over a thousand performances, the set also needed a reboot.
“The bells and whistles weren’t just dusty, they were falling apart, and one set was there for nearly all of it.” Blount said.
Now with a newly redesigned set and props, a new cast, and a freshly invigorated production team, Blount and company are ready to produce the play again for the 2022 Christmas season.
Blount promised a fresh take on their most well-known production.
“We’re pulling out all the stops and bringing the show into the 21st century. We welcome families to see this production and set a new tradition; a tradition that honors what the show has always meant to our community, while reaching a new level of inspiration for our audience. We’re eager to bring Christmas back to the territory,” he said.
An entirely new experience, complete with a revamped set and new costumes, is expected for their biggest production of the play to date.
“We had already been discussing revitalizing the show for several years,” Timothy Stewart, The Pollard Theatre’s director of development, said. “We asked ourselves, how can we improve it? What will serve the narrative? And how can we put the audience in Scrooge’s shoes? We finally landed on a fresh concept we believe will work,” Stewart said.
“A Territorial Christmas Carol has been a staple in our community for three decades.” said Pollard Technical Director Michael Long. “We knew when we decided to bring the show back, we not only had to do it justice, but we also needed to show the audience something they’ve never seen before,” he said.
The new production is directed by Blount and Long, with costume design by The Pollard’s longtime costume designer Michael James. The show will also feature a new, original score by composer Louise Goldberg. The cast includes Richard Lemin stepping in to perform the iconic role of Scrooge. David Fletcher-Hall is Charles Dickens, while Jared Blount and Megan Montgomery are Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit.
The month-long run of A Territorial Christmas Carol is midway through The Pollard’s 35th season. The jade season continues in March with the murder-mystery play Clue, followed by the musical comedy romp Little Shop of Horrors in June.
Tickets are on sale for A Territorial Christmas Carol, which opens Nov. 25 and runs through Dec. 23.