Like father, like son. Thirty-five years ago, George C. Scott took on the role of miserable miser Ebenezer Scrooge, the most hated man in all 19th-century London. Now, more than three decades later, Scott’s son, Campbell Scott, is stepping onto the Broadway stage to provide his own take on the classic Christmas tale of how a man rediscovers the warmth, generosity and true meaning of Christmas.
Playwright Jack Thorne’s (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) adaptation paired with Matthew Warchus’ (Matilda) direction gives way to a wonderful new interpretation of Charles Dickens’ beloved story. The play stars Tony Award-winners Andrea Martin (Pippin) and LaChanze (The Color Purple), as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, respectively. And it wouldn’t be a tale of redemption without the man who needs it most, Scrooge.
Although acting is in his blood (Scott’s mother was actress Colleen Dewhurst), Scott originally went to school to become a teacher and began seriously performing in college, starting with plays. He came to New York City in the early ’80s looking for work in theater, film and television but recalls his first foray into acting with a high school skit: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
“At that time, I didn’t consider theater and acting as a profession, even though my parents did it,” said Scott, who majored in history. “But then it occurred to me later that all the things I like about history is what I like about drama.”
Scott fondly remembers being backstage with his brother during one of his parents’ productions and playing cards with the “kind and colorful actors.”
“Theater was our place away from home. My mother said it’s not an easy life, acting, but once she saw I was serious about it, she went with it,” said Scott, noting that he has always been a big reader and loved movies and stories as a kid. “Some of why I love my craft has to do with the words and talent of writers. What’s the script? What’s the story? I’m a rather isolated person by choice so it’s good for me to be under the cover of someone else’s words and be creative.”
When asked what it was like to originate a role that was previously played by his father 35 years ago, Scott said that he knew his father’s version well, but would make his own mark.
“My dad was a lovely actor. He was always very smart when he worked,” said Scott, who had a relationship with Dickens’ story when he was a kid. “I watched those old movies and I loved his version of the film. It’s one of the best because it’s very straightforward, very scary and how Dickens intended it to be, I think. I always loved the scene where Scrooge is watching himself as a young man breaking up with his one true love. It’s very moving and the idea of looking at your younger self and being able to have the experience and wisdom of your older self is something we can all relate to.”
When Scott received the call that A Christmas Carol was coming across the pond from London, he quipped that he would steal what he liked from the UK production and take it from there.
“I’ll steal from anybody,” he joked. “I’m sort of a wing-it guy. I read the book again but didn’t really watch the movies. This version doesn’t eliminate Dickens, but Jack’s take on it is very contemporary, so that becomes the challenge.”
Lovers of the classic tale might scoff that it is not identical from page to stage, but Thorne’s take on the play is refreshing and fitting. Aside from the spirits, Scott shared that Thorne has subtly but excellently filled in Scrooge’s past to create the man we all think we know.
“It’s good, unsentimental work on everyone’s part,” said Scott. “Matthew is a genius and it’s a deceptively simple production with sound and lighting effects employed to give you a traditional experience. We involve the audience and that’s a blast.”
Scott also spoke of how fortunate he was to work with his mother, both in the play Long Day’s Journey Into Night and the film Dying Young. At the time, he wasn’t too thrilled to work with his mom, as any son might be, but in hindsight, he says, he was happy about it.
“She was a pleasure to work with, a total pro,” said Scott of his mother. “Both of my parents were extremely great examples of acting and exemplified what that craft really means and how to pay attention to it.”
When it comes to sharing the stage this time around, a familiar face was there to greet Scott: Andrea Martin. The two worked together on Noises Off a few years ago but knew of each other before.
“Let me tell you, there is no one better to share the stage with,” he said of Martin, who portrays his character’s first spiritual encounter. “She’s funny, smart, dedicated and knows the audience, which is exactly what you want in an actor.”
It wouldn’t be the holiday season without a charitable element and A Christmas Carol has the perfect one: helping families stay together. According to Scott, the production finds a charity that is well-regarded but small and raises money to help them. This year, the production has chosen to highlight Hearts of Gold, which helps to transition homeless mothers and their children into housing.
And though it was published more than 175 years ago, A Christmas Carol remains a literary constant that will transcend generations for years to come.
“I’m impressed by how moving this story still is,” said Scott of the Christmas classic. “Dickens wrote it in 1843; we still read it, we still watch it, we know what’s going to happen and yet, the basic idea of making yourself a better person and finding out you have the capability to change and be generous is a redemption story that everyone can use.”
A Christmas Carol is currently playing through January at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th St., New York. For tickets and more information, visit www.achristmascarolbroadway.com. To learn more about Hearts of Gold and how you can help donate this holiday season, visit www.heartsofgold.org.