Stage notes: Four local kids in ‘Christmas Carol’

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Young Company actors (left to right) Morgan August Isabella, Matthew Taylor, Mackenzie Dale Durken and Kiara Durbin make merry backstage in costume as they prepare to perform. Great Lakes Theaters 24th annual production of Charles Dickens holiday classic A Christmas Carol runs at the Ohio Theatre, PlayhouseSquare through December 23. (Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Theater)

Four young actors from the Akron area are among the 10 children now performing in the annual holiday tradition A Christmas Carol at Great Lakes Theater at PlayhouseSquare. The local youngsters, who hail from Summit, Medina, Portage and Stark counties, include two who have appeared in the popular Cleveland production before and two who are making their professional theater debuts.

First is Matthew Taylor, a fifth-grader at Strausser Elementary School in Jackson Township whom folks may remember from 2009 as Randy in A Christmas Story at Cleveland Play House, and who more recently played Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird at Magical Theatre Company in Barberton. (Next he will play the title role in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas at Magical Theatre.)

At age 11, Matthew’s a seasoned performer who first performed in Great Lakes’ A Christmas Carol as Tiny Tim in 2010. Last year, he played Turkey Boy at Players Guild in Canton and is doing the role again this year at Great Lakes Theater.

He’s the kid who’s the first witness to Scrooge’s miraculous transformation, as Scrooge calls down from his window and asks the boy to fetch him a turkey for half a crown.

“I go out in the audience and people think I’m just like a normal person,” Matthew explained.

Except for the fact that he’s actually wearing a Dickensian-era costume. Matthew also appears as a street sweeper and throws some snowballs in another scene, which are made of fluffy cotton.

The child performers were integrated into the adult cast during a whirlwind nine days of rehearsal in November, which ran up to 10 hours a day, and even longer technical rehearsals. It’s a long commute from Jackson Township for Matthew, but he said the professional experience is well worth it to him.

His favorite part of the show is a spectacular exit for the Ghost of Christmas Past: “He goes down the trap door, and it’s scary … There’s all this smoke, so you can’t really see anything.”

The play, loaded with special effects to bring the supernatural to life, is staged by Sara Bruner based on the original 1989 adaptation and direction by Gerald Freedman, former artistic director for Great Lakes Theater Festival. The show continues through Dec. 23 at the Ohio Theatre. Tickets cost $28-$60. Call 216-241-6000 or see www.greatlakestheater.org.

Part of the children’s auditions included singing carols or their favorite tune because they’re featured singers in the holiday production. Kiara Durbin of Twinsburg, who is making her professional acting debut, was thrilled to receive the only child soloist role as a Young Mourner at Tiny Tim’s grave. She sings a solo part in That Woe Is Me.

The 10-year-old, who hails from Dodge Intermediate School, has grown up watching her parents, sister and brother on stage. She has been active with Twinsburg Community Theatre as well as theaters in Beachwood and Solon.

The Christmas Carol role is putting her one step closer to achieving her dream of becoming a professional actress: “I just love it how everyone’s attention is on me and I just get to be free and do whatever I want to do,” she said, explaining that even in group scenes, she is free to make her role her own.

Morgan Isabella of Brimfield Township, who also loves to sing, is making her professional debut singing a handful of songs in A Christmas Carol. She has previously performed at Akron-area community theaters, including as Pepper in Annie at Weathervane.

The 11-year-old, a sixth-grader at Falcon Academy of Creative Arts, plays a Street Child who wears a red, flowered “big poofy dress” and a shawl in A Christmas Carol.

She also sings and holds a candle with the other children in the Miners and Mariners scene, where Scrooge sees how laborers keep Christmas.

Morgan, who lives an hour from the theater, said she goes to school in the morning to get all her assignments before reporting to work for student matinees. She spoke by phone Dec. 6 after a student matinee, six performances into the show’s run.

“Today there was this little boy in the front row and he was smiling and everything, and that’s just the best feeling,” she said.

Finally, Mackenzie Durken returns to the Great Lakes Theater stage for her third year as Skate Girl, who carries metal skates during street scenes. She also performs in a quartet in the Miners and Mariners scene.

The sixth-grader, who attends Willetts Middle School in Brunswick, landed the role in A Christmas Carol two years ago in her first foray into theater.

“I don’t really care what part I get because it’s just fun to be in it,” the 11-year-old said.

She’s also continually awed by the Ghost of Christmas Future, a giant puppet with skeletal hands that floats over the graveyard and is operated by adult actor Eduardo Placer. At the other extreme, when the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present appears, Mackenzie sits at the front of the stage eating berries with Sled Boy and Turkey Boy.

The thrill of performing and the camaraderie with the other actors keep this young actress coming back.

“Everyone here is like my second family,’’ Mackenzie said.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.


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