Actors recall their time as Tiny Tim in Goodman's 'Christmas Carol'

Friday, 17 November 2017, 05:18:28 AM. Nearly 1.5 million holiday season theatergoers have seen the annual production, which celebrates its 40th anniversary season beginning Saturday.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “God bless them, every one.”

Paris Strickland rehearses her role as Tiny Tim for the 2017 production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre.  | Courtesy Goodman Theatre.

They are the actors, who, in perhaps their earliest career moves, starred as the wee Tiny Tim in the Goodman Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” The beloved play, which to date has been seen by nearly 1.5 million holiday season theatergoers, celebrates its 40th anniversary when it opens Nov. 18. Henry Wishcamper returns for his fifth year as director, with Larry Yando reprising his role as Scrooge for the 10th time. The show also marks the first time a young actress, Paris Strickland (in her Goodman debut), will portray Tiny Tim.

To help commemorate the show’s milestone, Goodman is hosting a Tiny Tim “reunion” Saturday night at the theater prior to curtain, featuring eight of the 29 actors who in years past, in one of the show’s most touching moments, asked God to bless us all — reminding us that we are indeed blessed, no matter our circumstances.

Eight of the Tims spoke to the Sun-Times ahead of the reunion event. Here are some of their memories about “A Christmas Carol”:

Jamie Wild as Tiny Tim and Roger Mueller as Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol.” | Courtesy of the Goodman Theatre

JAMIE WILD (1982 – 1983)
Fondest memories of playing Tiny Tim:  “Honestly just being around the whole cast and crew on an almost daily basis. It becomes such a part of your life, and everyone is like family. It was a lot of work but it was always more fun than work!

Were you familiar with the Dickens tale prior to the show: “Definitely,  as I portrayed Tiny Tim in a couple community theaters at a younger age, and that’s when someone recommended that I try out for the same role at the Goodman.”

Your “take away” message from the show:  “No matter the situation or who you are or what you do or don’t have, it’s how you react to it and how you treat people — that’s truly always stuck with me.”

What would Tiny Tim say to the Scrooges of the world: “‘God bless us, every one,’ includes every one of you Scrooges! The world, especially these days, could use more Tiny Tim and less ‘Bah! Humbug!'”

Eric Todd Styles as Tiny Tim and Frank Galati in the 1984 production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre. | Courtesy Goodman Theatre

ERIC TODD STYLES (1984, the first African-American actor to be cast in the role and the only time the production was staged at the Auditorium Theatre)
Fondest memories of playing Tiny Tim:  “Having a mouthful of chocolate cake on stage when I needed to say the classic line, “God bless us, every one!” It was a dinner scene and that night the cake was chocolate, my favorite. I was seven years old. I had no fear back then and it didn’t phase me. The audience roared.”

Your “take away” message from the show:  “I think I had a sense that great things were just a part of my life. It was exciting and memorable. I have nothing but fond memories. It communicated to me something positive about the world and reinforced a positive outlook.”

What would Tiny Tim tell the Scrooges of the world?: “Lighten up and share the blessings that God has given you. You may have worked hard, but all is still a gift!”

Tiny Tim (Robby O’Connor) looks out at a beautiful holiday night with Ebenezer Scrooge (Rick Snyder) in this scene from the Goodman Theatre’s 2001 production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” | Liz Lauren

ROBBY O’CONNOR (2000 – 2001)
Fondest memories of playing Tiny Tim: I was six years old when I was first cast, and it was the last year of the play at the old Goodman Theater. I would have to say that my second year as Tiny Tim was a collection of my fondest memories as my sister Sheila was cast alongside me as Tim’s sister Belinda. It made a scene in act two particularly difficult for my family though; [when] the audience saw Belinda grieving for Tiny Tim, my family saw Sheila grieving for me, and my poor grandfather could hardly speak about it. After the last show that year my family left straight from the play for a road trip down South where Sheila and I went back and forth quoting the whole play line for line. Lastly, the enduring friendships that we have made — as the Goodman Theater family has become a part of our own family — and they are something I continue to treasure. Patrick Clear, who was Bob Cratchit when I was Tiny Tim, has come to all three of my graduations, and God willing I make it through to the end of law school I look forward to him being at that one as well.

Were you familiar with the Dickens tale prior to the show: Absolutely, my parents actually got engaged by the tree downtown right after seeing the play at the Goodman, as such it is a story that is inseparably linked to our own family history.

Your “take away” message from the show:  “The message that I took away and the message that I think everyone should take away from this wonderful story is the same that Scrooge himself learned: ‘To honor Christmas in your heart, and try to keep it all the year. To live in the past, the present, and the future.’ And ‘to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset.'”

What would Tiny Tim say to the Scrooges of the world?: “I think he would like to tell any Scrooge, who doesn’t have the benefit of being visited by three spirits, to remember that neither money nor power bring happiness, that the meaning of Christmas is found in goodwill toward Man, and to remember that the phrase ‘God bless us every one’  was and is meant to include everyone.”

Tiny Tim (Allen Alvarado) enjoys a holiday moment with his father Bob Cratchit (John Lister) and mother Mrs. Cratchit ( Lisa Dodson) in this scene from the Goodman Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” | Liz Lauren

ALLEN ALVARADO (2002 – 2003)
Fondest memories of playing Tiny Tim: “I really enjoyed the dressing room contests and ‘Secret Santa,’ but honestly, my favorite memory is… a bit odd. I was maybe five years old, and I ate some Uncle Ben’s Pizza Pasta right before the big dinner scene. I started to feel pretty nauseous, and I told my [stage] ‘family’ that I may not be able to get through the rest of the night. We all sat down at the table, and everyone had cautioned me not to eat any of the food… But I really liked the mashed potatoes. I took a small bite (just so the feast felt authentic), and I got sick all over the table. Without missing a beat, the family came together, carried me offstage, and mentioned that ‘Tim isn’t feeling very well this evening.’ Right then, I realized we were a family, of sorts, and they were looking out for me.”

Your “take away” message from the show: “Now more than ever, I think ‘Christmas Carol’s’ message resonates. To me, it always meant that you shouldn’t hold on to material excess if it can be used to better the lives of the less fortunate; and that material wealth especially shouldn’t make you forget what it means to be a compassionate human being.”

What would Tiny Tim say to the Scrooges of the world? “Tiny Tim wants all the Scrooges to know that even a fraction of their spirit, especially during the Christmas season, would go a long way in helping those in need.”

Ryan Cowhey portrayed Tiny Tim from 2006-2008 alongside Larry Yando as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”

RYAN COWHEY (2006 – 2008)
Fondest memories of playing Tiny Tim: “My fondest memory was my 2nd year as Tiny Tim. I was 7 years old, I believe, and I loved always having Ron Rains [Bob Crachit] lift me up before going on stage. It was so cool ducking under the door and ‘surprising’ everyone.”

Were you familiar with the Dickens tale prior to the show? “Absolutely not! When I went in to audition, [director] Bill Brown asked me if I knew who Tiny Tim was and I was so excited because I just learned the ‘Tiny Tim’ song about a turtle in a bathtub at camp that summer. So I sang it for them. They laughed, and I guess it worked because I was lucky to be in that role for three years.”

Your “take away” message from the show:  “Well, for me the Goodman was family. Family is the most important, and I’m glad Scrooge realized it before it was too late. That’s what I hope everyone takes away from this performance. Life is too short, enjoy what you have while you have it!”

What would Tiny Tim say to the Scrooges of the world? ‘God bless us every, one!,’ because we are truly blessed for all that we have.”

Cameron J. Conforti as Tiny Tim and Ron E. Rains as Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol.” | Liz Lauren

CAMERON J. CONFORTI (2010)
Fondest memories of playing Tiny Tim: “Ending the show by reciting the emotional, famous line, ‘God bless us every one.’ ”

Your “take away” message from the show: “Showing a little generosity can make a big impact on someone’s life.”

What would Tiny Tim say to the Scrooges of the world?  “Be kind and generous to all, and they will feel true happiness in return.”

Roni Akurati and Larry Yando in Goodman Theatre’s 2011 production of “A Christmas Carol.” | Courtesy the Goodman Theatre

RONI AKURATI (2011)
Fondest memories of playing Tiny Tim: “Opening [night]. I remember I was very nervous to go on stage and perform in front of a packed crowd. But performing the opening song was so fun and all my nerves melted away.

Your “take away” message from the show: “Try to see the positive side and be happier. Even though the Cratchits didn’t have much they were still able to celebrate Christmas with joy.”

What would Tiny Tim say to the Scrooges of the world? “It is not to late to change, help, and forgive. It is never too late to change course and set on a brighter path.”

NATE BUESCHER (2014 – 2016)
Fondest memories of playing Tiny Tim: “The first time I walked across the stage with my leg brace. The entire audience was silent and I could feel everyone looking at me and feeling sad for Tiny Tim. It made me feel really special to make the audience feel something while I was on stage.”

Were you familiar with the Dickens tale prior to the show?  “I knew the story a little bit but didn’t really understand it completely until I was a part of the production.”

Your “take away” message from the show: “You can be very happy in life with very little, and that money does not necessarily make you happy. Also, family is everything.”

What would Tiny Tim say to the Scrooges of the world? “It is never too late to find happiness. Being angry and crabby takes more energy than being happy. And being angry makes you look old.”

For tickets to “A Christmas Carol,” running through Dec. 31 at the Goodman Theatre, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Carol

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