With lights dim, a limited audience at the historic Round Barn Theatre in northern Indiana gets whisked away to the dreary streets of nineteenth-century England. From the well-known Ebenezer Scrooge to the beloved Tiny Tim and the haunting ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, Legacy Theatre Group’s A Musical Christmas Carol invites guests to relax, to imagine, and (ultimately) to remember the importance of “being the light” in this Broadway-style rendition of the classic story by Charles Dickens.
Among those who have helped make this premier production a success are PCC alumni, including Christy Stutzman (Music ’95), a state representative and the composer and lyricist for the music of the play. Stutzman is also co-founder of the Legacy Theatre Group, which is in charge of the production, as well as the executive director of the Round Barn Theatre.
“A Musical Christmas Carol is one of the biggest shows at the Round Barn Theatre in its 50-year history,” said Stutzman. Despite the limitations caused by Covid-19, the performance has had good turnouts for each showing so far. “We’re very thankful for the team God has brought together. We’ve got a dedicated cast who have made a lot of sacrifices,” she said. From working long hours to self-quarantining before the opening night of the musical, the cast have worked hard to make sure the audience has a meaningful experience.
In addition to watching the performance, the audience is encouraged to take part themselves by turning on LED candles and holding them up during two different songs. The first of these songs, the finale of the first act, highlights the moment when Scrooge observes people celebrating Christ’s birth around the world. “It gives you chills,” said Stutzman about seeing all those candles raised. “The cast has told me that when they’re singing that song and they see those candles go on and they see the audience lifting up the candles, . . . it’s a really, really neat moment for the audience and cast. It allows the audience to take part, to show that they’re not just listening, but they’re engaging.”
“The response has been great from the audience. They’ve never seen Christmas Carol done this way,” Stutzman said. Although the play is not overtly Christian, “it’s a story of redemption,” she added.
This focus on positive themes is not by accident; rather, both Stutzman and Bethany Crawford (’87, M.A.’91), the director of A Musical Christmas Carol and a writer for Legacy Theatre Group, have determined that they want to highlight timeless truths through the productions they bring to life. “We want to share the beauty of God’s messages through stories that will be a light to those that don’t know God’s gifts and might not be drawn in to a theatre otherwise,” said Crawford. “The main purpose Christy and I had with Legacy Theatre Group was to develop a niche in the musical theatre genre that isn’t there; to develop quality, family-friendly musicals.”
“We have so enjoyed collaborating,” Stutzman added. “It’s been a blessing to be on the same page with someone, have the same worldview, and to have the same passion for presenting excellent entertainment that uplifts and encourages.” But Crawford isn’t the only PCC graduate that has helped with the production of A Musical Christmas Carol.
Other alumni include Tim Parsons (Broadcasting ’11), the media and technical director at The Barns at Nappanee, and Paul Thompson (Music Ed ’02, M.A. ’04), the music director. In addition to playing the parts of Fred and Joe Biddle in the musical, Thompson explained, “I rehearse the cast and make sure they know the music as well as fix balance issues when I hear them. . . . I am also orchestrating parts of the show as needed.”
Thompson is also working on a new musical for Legacy Theatre Group based on Anne of Green Gables. “Figuring out the beats of the story and making that fit with the beats of a musical and remaining as true to the original work as possible has been a really fun process,” Thompson said.
While Thompson works on writing music for Anne of Green Gables, Stutzman and Crawford are again collaborating on a full-length, Broadway-style musical of When Calls the Heart, scheduled to premiere on Mother's Day weekend and run every weekend until July 17. As Stutzman writes the music, Crawford is focusing on the script. Crawford explained, “I have developed the skeleton of the show, so now I am working to flesh out [Oke’s] book. These are exciting times.”
While studying at PCC, both Stutzman and Thompson learned from well-known tenor Ray Gibbs, a former artist in residence at PCC who made a career in opera before entering music ministry. Thompson said that his time assisting Dr. Gibbs with a Fine Arts musical was especially valuable in preparing him for his current work. “In that position, I had to communicate with costume, lights, sets, orchestra, and cast to make sure we were all on the same page.”
These experiences are helping Thompson in his role at Legacy Theatre Group as he, Stutzman, and Crawford each bring their expertise to life through A Musical Christmas Carol and entertain audiences eager to enjoy an evening of normalcy, ghosts and all.
A Musical Christmas Carol, which had its opening night on November 5, has scheduled performances until January 2.