The show seems bursting with children, but there are
just six cast: Five young Cratchits (Martha, Belinda,
Peter, Emily and Tiny Tim) and a lad who doubles as Young
Scrooge/Turkey Boy. The Reformed Scrooge dispatches the latter to
buy the prize turkey for the Cratchits.
The most-belted audition songs: "Jingle
Bells," "Deck the Halls" and "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." Simon
Cowell would flinch, but that's fine with Scott and casting
director Adam Belcuore, who oversee separate tryouts, then compare
Staffers can scent a stage parent within
seconds. "We had a little girl come in once, dressed in
spangles and bows, and all that. She sang 'Let Me Entertain You'
from 'Gypsy,'" Scott recalls. "That was disquieting. We didn't cast
her." Bah, humbug, too, to parents who force their kids to
audition. Tears are a dead giveaway. Weepy children are calmed
down, reassured their parents will be told they did great and
quietly struck off the list.
The littlest actors (Emily and Tiny Tim)
pinch-hit as Ignorance and Want, the tiny tots under The
Ghost of Christmas Present's robes. "We like kids who look
emaciated under stage lights," Scott cracks. "Isn't that
The kids earn non-Equity salaries for their
The most hotly sought role is that of Belinda,
the second eldest Cratchit daughter. Tween girls (11 to 12)
outnumber would-be Tims and Marthas and everyone else at casting
calls. "A lot of times, these kids have been in school plays, have
dramatic experience and want to perform," Scott explains. In
contrast, most 5-year-old boys would rather be playing Game Boy
than Tim. For this reason, producers usually wind up casting an
older boy-age 7 or 8-as Tiny Tim. Kindergartners are fidgety, "not
used to being on stage, and not ready to do the things we expect of
them," Scott says.
The ideal Tiny Tim knows silence is golden. "A
good Tim is a kid who knows how to be still. A lot of what Tiny Tim
does is to be very quiet, keeping to himself," Scott says.
The ideal Tim is a lightweight, too. A Tubby
Tim is hard to handle, literally and figuratively. The audience
would gape, and the cast would groan. "We put a 50-pound weight
limit on him so Bob Cratchit doesn't get a bad back," Scott
advises. "One year Bob Cratchit threw out his back when we had a
particularly robust Tiny Tim."
The wee actress who plays the youngest Cratchit
daughter serves as Tiny Tim's understudy. Should Tim fall
ill, wardrobe tucks her hair under a cap, garbs her in rags and
she's good to go. "Sometimes we refer to her as Tiny Tina, if
getting rid of the hair doesn't work," Scott says. A little girl
won the role of Tim once, but had to be convinced to cut her
Fresh-faced older actors sometimes crash the
auditions, hoping to snag the role of the teenage Martha
or Peter. Scott was duped the first time he directed "A Christmas
Carol" in 1989. He thought he cast a 16-year-old as Peter. After
the final show, the actor "ended up telling me he was 22," Scott
says. "He just looked very young."
Parents of young cast members are treated to free seats
to every show, but few take advantage of the offer. This
may be due in part to the seats, in a private observation booth.
The view is great, but one can't elbow another patron and boast,
"That's my boy!" Most attend a few performances, then "drop the
kids off, do something else and come back at the end of the show,"
Bonus scoop: Tiny Tim knows he's the star.
Year after year, audiences wait for the half-starved darling to
pipe, "God bless us, every one!" How cool is that, upstaging an
entire cast? "Usually Tiny Tim can't wait for that line. Sometimes
we've had Tiny Tims who said it too early," Scott says, laughing.
"But they glory in the attention they get in that moment."
Molly Woulfe is a mom and freelance writer specializing in Chicago's entertainment scene.