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How Dickens' Message Applies Today: Scrooge, Tiny Tim and the Arrogance of Wealth

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Charles Dickens, author of the beloved, A Christmas Carol, is considered the greatest writer of the Victorian era, and was "only too familiar with the shameless piling up of wealth, the poor struggling to survive, the penny pinching of welfare, and the lofty contempt of our rulers."

Daguerreotype, Charles Dickens c. 1867-68
(Image by Public domain via wiki)
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The middle 1800's were a period of "turbulent capitalist transformation of the great cities, of enormous social conflict between different social forces, and of fierce ideological turmoil." Dickens was passionate about the obligation of society to humanely provide for the poor and unfortunate, and he was equally passionate about exposing the evils of profound economic inequalities.

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Sound familiar? The issues addressed in Dickens' messages are still hot topics a century-and-a-half later in our current presidential primaries. Vermont Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is especially Dickensian in his condemnation of the huge economic inequality in our society. And like Dickens, Sanders is passionate about helping the disadvantaged.

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Dickens had planned a standard political pamphlet-writing campaign to help educate the public in order to sway opinions in favor of assisting the unfortunate. That changed in October 1843. As a result of participating as a lecturer in a landmark event focused on fundraising for the poor, he was deeply touched by the plights of the destitute people he interacted with during the three-day event.

So Dickens abandoned his proselytizing plan, and instead, started working on a novella designed to speak directly to the heart. In a timeline that would make a modern day cyber author proud, he finished A Christmas Carol in just six weeks, and saw it published in time for Christmas. It was an instant success, and just a few weeks later three adaptations for the stage had already opened.

Ryan Bradshaw (Tiny Tim) and Chris Van Cleave (Scrooge) in VMT production of A Christmas Carol: A Musical, 2015
(Image by Justin Ferry, Virginia Musical Theatre)
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Veteran actor-singer Chris Van Cleave has portrayed both Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge in multiple productions of A Christmas Carol. His full and diverse background includes other major roles in U.S.A. and U.K. national tours, as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar and as Claude in Hair, as well as playing leading roles in London West End productions of Les Miserables and Chess.

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Van Cleave in the title role in Jesus Christ, Superstar, various productions, including the Broadway tour, top left.
(Image by Photos courtesy Chris Van Cleave.)
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Van Cleave has been Loretta Swit's (M.A.S.H.) leading man in stage productions of both The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Mame at the Forestburgh Playhouse, the oldest continuously operating professional summer theatre in New York State.

Van Cleave and Loretta Swit in 'Best Little Whorehouse',' and (inset) 'Mame' at the Forestburgh Playhouse
(Image by Jonathan Charles Fox. Used with kind permission of Franklin Trapp)
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Van Cleave portrayed Doctor George Burkley, personal physician to Rob Lowe's JFK in the 2013 National Geographic TV film, Killing Kennedy, and he also portrayed Charles Lindberg in a National Geographic TV special.

Van Cleave in the National Geographic TV production of 'Secret Lives of Charles Lindberg' (2009) as Charles Lindbergh, directed by Clare Nolan.
(Image by Photos courtesy Chris Van Cleave.)
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As part of the singing group, Meadow, Van Cleave was a singer/songwriter/guitarist for Paramount Records, along with Walker Daniels (original lead in Hair) and Laura Branigan. Meadow's The Friend Ship was produced in 1973 by Lou Hemsey who continues to collaborate with Van Cleave.

Meadow's 'The Friend Ship' album cover, L-R: Bob Valdez, Walker Daniels, Laura Branigan and Chris Van Cleave
(Image by Chris Van Cleave, used with kind permission)
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Meryl Ann Butler: Thanks for visiting with us today, Chris. I understand that your upcoming participation in Virginia Musical Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol: A Musical is not your first...

Chris Van Cleave: Correct, this will be my fourth production of A Christmas Carol. In two different adaptations, I played the role of Jacob Marley's Ghost with Virginia Stage Company at the historic Wells Theatre in Norfolk, VA.

Van Cleave as performing 'Jacob Marley's ghost,' Virginia Stage Co
(Image by Samuel W Flint, Virginia Stage Company)
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In this upcoming original musical production with Virginia Musical Theatre I play "Scrooge," a role I first played for them in 1998. I feel there is much more that I can bring to the role and story at this stage of my life. I'm very excited to explore the possibilities not only as an actor/singer, but as a human being continuing to learn about humanity.

MAB: Fascinating! Can you share anything about the insights you may have had on this?

CVC: The word "theatre" is of Greek origin and means "the seeing place." The visual and performing arts in their best renderings offer an opportunity for humanity to reflect upon our own human nature and Creation as a whole. As well as the potential entertainment value, "Art" in its greatest sense can touch us on deeper levels, even to our very souls, and open our eyes and hearts to what we have been and can yet be. Sometimes this means looking into a mirror that is not an easy vision to look at but must be seen in order to see beyond to positive changes that can be made for the betterment of ourselves and humanity as a whole.

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit celebrate Christmas in an illustration from Stave Five of the original edition, 1843
(Image by Public domain via wiki)
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MAB: And there is a lot that Dickens wants us to see in his theatrical production! How do you think the themes in "A Christmas Carol" relate to aspects of the political climate today?

CVC: It is sad to realize that we still have so many of the same problems in our so-called modern society today that have existed throughout history remembered. Poverty, greed, neglected poor, hatred, fear, all of which have led to wars within ourselves and between nations. The willingness to change, to transform ourselves as individuals and as humanity collectively through Love and forgiveness has always been the key. However, as history and present-day global events have continued to show, this seems to be easier said than done. And yet, ironically, change is one thing in Life that is bound to happen no matter how we may resist within our comfort zones -- which are often not really very comfortable at all!

MAB: And this story has much to say about how even the hardest heart can be redeemed. I find that hopeful! What advice do you think Dickens has for us, considering the political climate in the US at this time?

CVC: I believe that the ghost of Jacob Marley summed up what matters most, when he said:

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

"At this time of the rolling year," the spectre said "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!"

Marley's Ghost
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(excerpt from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Stave 1: Marley's Ghost )

MAB: Scottish novelist and historical writer Margaret Oliphant said about the book, "in the days of its first publication it was regarded as 'a new gospel' and noted that the book was unique in that it actually made people behave better." What do you think? And what do you want your audiences' "take-home" to be?

CVC: A Christmas Carol is unquestionably a timeless classic that has literally changed society for the better from its first publication. In addition to being highly entertaining as a story and even more so with the addition of brilliant songs, dancing, and performances of VMT's current production, it reminds us as an audience and individuals of what really matters in Life. The love, friendship, charity, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, cheer, that we have been able to experience and express are Life's true treasures. I believe when we pass on from here these values are what we will not only take with us, but also leave behind within the hearts of those we have known.

Chris Van Cleave (Scrooge) in VMT production of A Christmas Carol: A Musical
(Image by Justin Ferry, Virginia Musical Theatre)
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MAB: Inspiring! Chris, you know this story, but I'd like to share it with our readers. My husband and I attended the Broadway touring performance of JC Superstar in Lake Charles, Louisiana over 30 years ago, I think it was about 1980. It was a big date night for us, the first time we ever got a babysitter! It was an amazing production, and I saved the program. A short time after, my husband died, and my daughter and I moved to Virginia, and attended a little church that was filled with artists and had great music. I remember thinking that the music director seemed so familiar to me, but I didn't make the connection that it was you until I came across the program I'd saved from the show! More recently, I was on the West Coast for a decade, and you spent time in England -- and now here we are, both back in Virginia again, doing this interview!

CVC: Life is certainly full of amazing twists and turns, eh? I'm so glad to have crossed paths with you and your daughter, and now your sweet little granddaughter!

MAB: Thanks, Chris! Me, too! And it's great to be close enough to see you perform again. Whats the schedule for your upcoming shows?

CVC: We'll be performing four shows this weekend at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach, VA: Friday, Dec. 4th at 8 pm; Saturday, Dec. 5th at 2 pm and 8 pm; and Sunday, Dec. 6th at 2:30 pm. The show features more than 30 performing artists, a full orchestra and elaborate scenery! Right after the Saturday evening performance, the cast will have an old fashioned piano party next door at Zeiders American Dream Theater at 10 pm. I'll also be giving a musical concert at Zeiders on December 12: "Songs for the Season," including songs from my musical, "Presence," and traditional Christmas Carols reinterpreted.

MAB: I'm looking forward to being at most of these! Thanks for taking time out for this interview, Chris!

CVC: Thank you, Meryl Ann, for your interest and all that you do as a writer, artist, and human being towards making a positive difference in world.

MAB: Aw, thanks, Chris! And you, too! And I'd like to extend a very "Merrie", Christmas to you, and to our OEN readers!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Virginia Musical Theater's production of "A Christmas Carol" will be at the Sandler Center at 201 Market Street in Virginia Beach, VA: Friday, Dec. 4th at 8 pm; Saturday Dec. 5th at 2 pm and 8 pm; and Sunday, Dec. 6th at 2:30 pm. Tickets range from $12 - $18 for children and students under 25. Tickets for adults are $20 - $60. You can save $20 on adult level one seating when you bring a new children's toy to the Sandler Center or the VMT business office:

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This year VMT is proud to participate in the ForKids annual Holiday Toy Drive to help needy families around Hampton Roads. Toys may be dropped off at the VMT Office any time (265 Kings Grant Rd Virginia Beach, VA 23452 Phone:(757) 340-5446) , or can be donated at the Sandler Center the weekend of the performance. Each toy is good for one level one ticket at $20 off.

Virginia Musical Theater
(Image by Virginia Musical Theater)
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Virginia Musical Theatre's upcoming season includes Mame (March 4-6, 2016) and Nice Work if You Can Get It (April 22-24, 2016).

As a singer-songwriter, Van Cleave has performed in concert tours across US and produced eight albums. He is currently producing a documentary, Not Forgotten, about the 1600+ Americans lost in the Viet Nam War who remain unaccounted for. Van Cleave's father, a fighter pilot shot down over Laos in 1969, is one of the "not forgotten." Chris' performed his song by the same title in the 2013 NYC Veterans Day Parade, and this year he performed it in Americas, GA, at The Ride Home, the largest gathering of remaining former POW's and MIA's.

On Dec. 12 Chris Van Cleave & Friends will present their "Songs for the Season" concert at 8 pm at Zeiders American Dream Theater in Virginia Beach, VA.

Chris Van Cleave & Friends 'Songs for the Season' concert on December 12 at * pm at Zeiders American Dream Theater
(Image by Zeiders American Dream Theater)
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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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