Mark Hayward's City Matters: Tiny Tim's delivery makes the show
Some lines just make a movie or a stage show.
"Gone With the Wind" would mean nothing if Rhett Butler did not finally tell Scarlet that he doesn't give a damn. Ratso Rizzo sets the mood of 1960s New York with his hood-pounding "I'm walkin' here," in "Midnight Cowboy".
And of course, there is Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." The Ebeneezer Scrooge actor can expound and rail with all sorts of lines. Christmas ghosts can pontificate about Christmas virtue. But a tiny person must flawlessly deliver a tiny line — "God bless us, everyone" — if the show is to reach its dramatic heights.
This year, that duty rests with three New Hampshire school children. Each plays Tiny Tim for each of the three weekend runs at the Palace Theatre in downtown Manchester. (The theater has made "A Christmas Carol" a tradition, and actually took the show on the road this year.)
The three come from various backgrounds. They've dabbled in theatre, and one has acted on TV shows.
All three auditioned for the role. Once selected, they had to learn their lines (not that hard since there are only four lines), work on their singing voice (they sing with an ensemble) and master walking with a limp leg and crutch. ("Walk like the crutch is glued to your foot, bend your back and lean on the crutch," advised Windham 8-year-old Jake Joyce, the Tiny Tim for the first week's run.)
"I kind of felt nervous sometimes. Now that I got used to it, it's not so nervous," said Manchester resident Tank Blanchette, adding "It's really hard not to smile." The 9-year-old, a student at Smyth Road School in Manchester, attributes his slight stature to landing the role, which he also played last year.
Their job is important. The success of "A Christmas Carol" can't be underestimated for the Palace. Along with "The "Nutcracker," it generates one-third of Palace revenue for the entire year. It's also a coming together of the professionals in the Palace Theatre Production troupe, the youth theatre group and just about anyone who auditions for the show.
One hundred fifty children, from ages 6 to 17 years, take part in "A Christmas Carol." The Palace finds a spot for any kid who wants one, and they are divided among the three weekends. "We love it," said company manager and youth theater adminstrator Megan Quinn. "It's a new energy every week. We have new kids every week."
The production took a new step this year when it put a fourth cast on the road. The show will play 11 locations, including the 3,000-seat Eisenhower Theater in West Point, N.Y., and other shows in Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, even Texas, said Palace marketing director Chris Lockwood.
"It's become a really good production," he said. "We get so many requests — how do you do 'A Christmas Carol?' "
We know the story of "A Christmas Carol" as well as we know the lyrics of "Jingle Bells." The sickly Tiny Tim's all-important line comes during the season of hope and celebration. The emotional strength of the line — "God Bless us everyone" — is in the physical weakness of the character.
The young actors put a lot of effort into getting it right.
Their British accent is apparent in "God," pronounced more like a clipped version of the word good. "Bless us" rings with the certainty of a child's faith. A pause follows. "Everyone" bubbles with boyish enthusiasm and pitch.
The three boys said they spent a couple of weeks at rehearsals, working on their lines and remembering their cues.
Sean Vincent, an 8-year-old student at Newmarket Elementary, said he watched several versions of "A Christmas Carol" to get the British accent down. He credits Blanchette with showing him how to use the crutch.
Vincent has acted in two television shows — one the Boston-based "Hatfields and McCoys," a pilot that went nowhere. The other is "Olive Kitteridge," a Massachusetts-based miniseries expected to air next year.
Despite their early success, none of the three is ready to commit to chase the notion of a Hollywood career. Why embrace the glamour, the paparazzi, the million-dollar deals? Afterall, they have their lives in New Hampshire, lives of elementary school basketball games, karate classes, skiing, Cub Scouts and good-old TV watching. And this year, they made had a spectacular Christmas, at a Hanover Street theater in downtown Manchester.
"It's hard work, but I've been waiting to do this," Vincent said. "I just really hope my mom will let me be in another one."
Mark Hayward's City Matters runs Thursdays in the Union Leader and on UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org