No one would call Michael Elkins a Scrooge, even though he has played one for 28 years.
Elkins, chairman of theater and dance at Notre Dame de Namur University, portrays the iconic Dickens character in the school’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” which opens next week.
“Playing Scrooge is wonderful,” Elkins says. “You get the best of both worlds. You get to be all ‘despicable me’ and then go through that cathartic transformation. People need to think that there’s that chance of redemption,” he says.
NDNU’s “Christmas Carol” — affectionately called “The Gift” by locals — is free for all performances, except the opening-gala presentation Dec. 6. And patrons are encouraged to bring nonperishable food and toys to every performance. The items are donated to varied Bay Area charities. Each year, the event collects an average of 1,500 toys and as much as 3 tons of food. Since 1985, some 100,000 have attended.
NDNU’s adaptation of the classic is a musical featuring music by Alan Menken (famous for his Disney scores for “Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast), lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Mike Ockrent and Ahrens. Of course, authentic details evoke the Victorian London setting.
“The biggest challenge is making sure it never gets stale,” Elkins says. “I’m always looking for new things to do, whether it’s new special effects or whatever.”
The show stars professional and amateur actors, including many young students. Working with children and teens isn’t difficult, Elkin says: “The challenge is making sure we have the chemistry with the group. There’s always turnover in principal roles.”
For Elkins, Dickens’ 1843 story has remained popular for so long because it has a strong message of transformation. His favorite scene is after Scrooge wakes up from a dream and decides to take up his nephew’s offer to meet for Christmas lunch: “There’s a leap of faith, like what if he turns Scrooge away.”
The play, he says, “has an effect on people. It re-inspires them to be kinder to others and reflect on their good fortune, as Dickens wanted it.”
Ticketed opening-night festivities include caroling and a post-show Victorian gala and banquet at which guests may meet the cast and crew and feast on refreshments. The menu features roast beef, sliders, salmon, mashed potatoes, salad, desserts, beer and wine.
IF YOU GO
The Gift: A Christmas Carol The Musical
Where: Notre Dame de Namur University Theatre, 1500 Ralston Ave., Belmont
When: Opens at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, plus 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12-13; closes Dec. 15
Tickets: Free (except on Dec. 6); food and toy donations encouraged
Note: Tickets to the Dec. 6 gala cost $25 to $50.