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'A Christmas Carol' director still feels the holiday spirit

Checking In With ... John-David Keller

South Coast Repertory veteran has guided the Dickens classic since 1980.

December 12, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • John-David Keller, longtime director of "A Christmas Carol," stands on the set following rehearsals at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.
John-David Keller, longtime director of "A Christmas… (Don Leach, Daily…)

Ask any random group of patrons of the Orange County theater world, and they can probably tell you that Hal Landon Jr. has played Ebenezer Scrooge in South Coast Repertory's "A Christmas Carol" for the last 34 years.

What they may not know is that Landon isn't the only person who's stayed with the annual holiday production since 1980. While the actor has traced Scrooge's metamorphosis from gruff curmudgeon to bringer of cheer, the same director, John-David Keller, has guided him from the wings each time.

Actually, that's not quite right. Keller, a member of SCR for 42 years, hasn't stayed in the wings during production of the Charles Dickens classic — he's joined the cast himself, and he'll be back this year as the jolly Mr. Fezziwig. In fact, the Irvine resident could probably recite the entire play from memory by now, and he's even filled in for Landon a few times when the star wasn't available.

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With SCR's latest "Christmas Carol" midway through its run on the Segerstrom Stage, Keller spoke with the Daily Pilot about his three-decade journey with Scrooge. The following are excerpts from the conversation:

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In the spirit of "A Christmas Carol," we ought to start with a metaphysical question. If you could go back in time and forget everything you know and see the play again for the first time, would you want to do that?

Absolutely, absolutely. But, I mean, how far back are you talking? Are you talking about in the time it was written, or are you talking about the time we started doing it? This play has been a Christmas tradition since it was written. There's been thousands of interpretations of it, of ideas about how they wanted it to look and all that. When I was given the project, I said, "The only way I want to do it is in a traditional way. I want it to look like the period in which it was written. I want it to be in costume true to what Dickens was trying to evoke in his writing." And I think there are certain speeches in the script that are right out of the novel, and I love those speeches because they personify what the spirit of the show is all about — redemption and forgiveness and generosity and all those things that we forget.

Do you remember when you first read the story, or when you first saw a play or a movie version?

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