After 16 Years, An Iconic Scrooge Takes His Final Bow

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY DEC 15, 2017

When Venice Theatre raises the curtain tonight to begin this year’s run of A Christmas Carol, it will be the 18th annual production of this original musical adaptation, commissioned by the theater in the year 2000. It will be the 16th year that Venice Theatre Executive/Artistic Director Murray Chase directs and the 16th year for Music Director Michelle Kasanofsky as well. And it will be the 16th, and final, performance for the man who has played Ebenezer Scrooge for Venice audiences every year since 2002. “I’ve had a lot of joy from it,” says actor Eric Watters, “and I will do it now, at 70 years of age, and that’s some sort of landmark for me.”

Watters first picked up the role in his mid-50s, reinvigorating a production that sputtered off the starting line. The commission was costly but ticket sales light for the first two years, and Chase was worried. “I hadn’t found the perfect Scrooge yet,” he says. “Bringing in Eric, and then Michelle as music director, brought the show to a new level.” Since then, ticket sales and audiences have only grown.

“I thought I would be sadder than I am,” says Watters, of approaching his final run. “I’m really kind of happy about it actually.” Not only does this mean his knees get a break next year from all of the singing and dancing and running up and down a narrow spiral staircase (upon which he “impales” himself once a year, he says), but he’ll have a chance to see the show as a member of the audience for the first time in 16 years.

Even when diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2011, Watters made sure to be in fighting shape for his annual role. Weathering chemotherapy through October and November, he stopped treatment for the production because it left him “zombified.” The theater stepped in to help, finding a generous stand-in who would work with the cast through the entire rehearsal process, only to step aside for Watters when the production began. “It was unusual and not easy,” Watters downplays, “and that’s the one I will remember the most. Not because of the cancer, but because of the kindness.” He has since won his battle with the disease.

And he’ll miss the energy and camaraderie of the production, particularly the children (even if he does get sick every year, and suspects that youthful “petri dish” may be the culprit), but Scrooge will always be with him. After 16 years, Watters knows him better than most and finds him a highly sympathetic character—wounded but not bad, and more complex than many may give him credit for. And it was Scrooge that was there with Watters when he lost his mother three years ago, the last member of his family. “I found myself quoting a line from the show,” he says: “There he sat, all alone in the window, quite alone in the world, I do believe.” It wasn’t really Scrooge’s line, but it fit.

Now, upbeat and ready to take the stage once more, Watters already looks forward to seeing what someone else can bring to the character. Plus, it’s time to give someone else a shot. “It really is one of the great roles in theater,” he says. “There should be other people who get a chance to do it.” But he has a bit of advice: “Make the role your own.”

A Christmas Carol opens tonight at Venice Theatre and runs through Dec. 21.

Pictured: Eric Watters as Ebenezer Scrooge at Venice Theatre in 2016. Photo courtesy of Venice Theatre.

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