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Children take to the SCR stage

Many youngsters who auditioned and were cast in the annual "A Christmas Carol" production are making their first professional appearances.

December 01, 2011|By Imran Vittachi

Hal Landon Jr.'s yearly portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge has become as constant and cozy a yuletide apparition in Orange County as re-runs of "It's a Wonderful Life" on TV.

For the 32nd time since 1980, the veteran actor is incarnating the lead role in South Coast Repertory Theatre's annual holiday season run of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. Regular performances open at 7:30 p.m. Friday and continue through Christmas Eve.

Landon needs not worry anymore about having to audition for the part. But for the 16 children who play multiple supporting roles in the SCR adaptation of Dickens' short story, being cast is no sure thing.

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After all, the SCR experience isn't anything like their grade-school's Thanksgiving pageant.

"As a 10-year-old, it's truly amazing because most 10-year-olds don't have this opportunity in life — I'm very lucky to have it," said Chaney Lieberman, an Aliso Viejo girl and fifth-grader who plays the impoverished Belinda Cratchit, the Rich Girl and other parts in Dickens' tale about a miser who is reborn as a benevolent man on Christmas Day.

Many of these child actors are making their first professional appearance in a theatrical production played out on SCR's main stage. To land the parts, the children must compete for 16 slots out of a pool of as many as 80 who audition for the show. These boys and girls are all enrolled in the Tony Award-winning company's in-house Theatre Conservatory program of acting classes for ages 8 to 18.

The 16 kids are divided into two supporting children's casts of eight — dubbed the Red Team and Green Team — who play in an equal number of shows on alternating days and nights. So, the Red Team appears with Landon and the other adults who are professional actors on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights, as well as in the Sunday matinees, while members of the Green Team will play on the days in between.

The idea is to give these children some flexibility, so they can fit the rigors of appearing in the production into their regular school day routines, SCR officials said. The kids can also fill in as understudies for their counterparts on the other team should one of them become sick.

"I think this is a really great experience," said Emme O'Toole, 10, of Irvine, who is Lieberman's counterpart on the Red Team in the Belinda Cratchit and Rich Girl roles. "It's a great honor to be picked out of all the kids who auditioned for it. "

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