Five-year-old Chappell Vann seems to have been born to play Tiny Tim, Charles Dickens’ pint-sized protagonist in “A Christmas Carol.”
“Somebody said ‘you would be the best Tiny Tim,’” Chappell remembered.
But he still had to audition for Mainstage Classic Theatre’s upcoming production, taking the stage at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at Willie Pigg Auditorium, 1520 N. Walnut Creek Drive.
Weighing 33 pounds and wearing big glasses, Chappell leans on a large crutch, personifying Tiny Tim. His own small frame is a reminder of Chappell’s premature birth, when he weighed only 2 pounds, 13 ounces.
Even Ray Cookus, who plays Scrooge, knows MCT’s fragile figure is going to loom large.
“Chappell is going to melt people,” said Cookus, who lives in Mansfield. “He’s going to have people eating out of the palm of his hand.”
The kindergartner can’t read yet, so his mom, Danielle, tells him his lines and he has to remember, plus add an English accent. That’s the part Chappell likes best, he says. And he’s been walking around the house trying out his new speech pattern, his mother says.
Fortunately, he only has six lines to remember, Chappell said.
Cookus, on the other hand, will be onstage for most of the production. But Scrooge is an old friend for this MCT veteran.
“When we lived in Houston, our church did a show for five years based on ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and I was Scrooge,” said Cookus, a longtime residential real estate appraiser. “He is either in my blood or I’m Scroogy. If the shoe fits…”
Cookus admits that he wouldn’t have minded playing Marley’s ghost either.
“I want to be scary,” he said. “But Scrooge is even better because you get to see the transformation. It’s also a challenge because I have to present the transformation.”
The Dickens classic, published in 1843, tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser who makes life miserable for all around him, particularly his employees. Set in London, the story follows Scrooge on Christmas Eve, and the ghosts who visit him: his former partner Marley, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.
Through the spirits, the audience learns how Scrooge became so unhappy, how miserable he makes others and his frightening future if he doesn’t change.
“He’s a man who hides his pain by being as mean as possible by pushing people away,” Cookus said. “He hasn’t had the easiest life. He’s everyone who has loved and lost. His addiction is making money. It’s difficult to pull off all those emotions and show that he’s a very complex character.”
Cookus reads “A Christmas Carol” almost every Christmas season, he said.
“For whatever reason, it has a message of hope and transformation that you don’t get if you watch any other movie,” Cookus said. “Dickens filled it with references to Jesus. Dickens wrote it at a time when people weren’t celebrating Christmas. Similar to what we have now, he did not like people spending money and buying gifts but not spending time with family.”
After the ghostly visits, Scrooge becomes a different person.
“He comes to realize that it’s not all about him,” Cookus said. “Isn’t that where we all are – it’s not all about me.”
Directed by MCT founder and director Marty Fredrick, the production will have Christmas carolers singing classic songs.
“It’s a great way to start off your Christmas season,” Cookus said. “It’s a wonderful old story that’s still relevant today.”
“A Christmas Carol”
2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18
Willie Pigg Auditorium, 1520 N. Walnut Creek Drive
$8-$12; MISD students free