"God bless us, every one."
Tiny Tim Cratchit gets the last word at every performance of Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol,” which has been a family holiday tradition at the Omaha Community Playhouse since 1976.
The show begins its 38th annual run Friday. Two professional touring companies of “A Christmas Carol,” which originate at the Playhouse, hit the road for the 35th year this week.
More than 70 boys and girls (yes, girls, but only on tour) have been lucky enough to be cast as Tiny Tim over the years, including 23 on the Playhouse's main stage. About half played him for just one season. Spencer Newman holds the record at four years.
From first to last, they have thoughts to share about playing Tim, who gives the show a giant dose of heart.
The Playhouse's “A Christmas Carol” was penned by its artistic director, the late Charles Jones, with music arrangements by John Bennett and choreography by Joanne Cady. Nobody anticipated its run to extend beyond that first year, least of all the show's first Tiny Tim, Scott Davis.
Scott Davis, mainstage 1976-77
“As you can imagine, I'm not nearly so tiny any more,” Davis, 43, said earlier this month from Denver, where he's lived for 15 years. His computer software career often finds him on the road, teaching classes to help companies make their websites and apps run well on smartphones and personal electronic devices.
“You can take the boy off the stage, but you can't get the stage out of the boy,” Davis quipped. “Even though I haven't done any acting in years, I'm on the international software conference circuit.”
His stage experience has made him at home as a keynote conference speaker, he said, including events in Bangalore, India, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, this year. He's spoken all across the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.
Ryan Laughlin, mainstage 2013
At 4-foot-2, Ryan's diminutive stature isn't usually a plus for the 9-year-old fourth-grader at St. Margaret Mary Elementary. But it did help him get cast as Tiny Tim for last year's East Coast tour. This year he'll play the part in the Omaha production.
He said he can identify with Tim when he plays football at school.
“The boys who play it, they're really rough. I'm usually the smallest person playing, so I'm used to getting pushed around,” he said. Limping with a crutch, as Tim, is not a stretch for Ryan.
His favorite thing about touring last year was meeting new people. He and the boys who played his Cratchit brothers had fun getting into Nerf ball fights. This year he looks forward to having his friends see him onstage in Omaha.
Ryan is the fourth Laughlin sibling to be in “A Christmas Carol.” His dad, attorney Mark Laughlin, was part of the first road company in 1979, after two years on the main stage in the children's ensemble. Both Mark's sisters and his mother are “Carol” veterans as well.
“I had such good memories of being in 'Carol,' ” said Laughlin, a Playhouse board member. When he asked his four children if they wanted to do it, each said yes. He said being in the show gives a confidence boost at a young age.
“I know part of who I am came from that, and I wanted that for my kids,” he said. “Also the lessons on hard work and what it takes to put together something great.”
Clark Lauritzen, mainstage, 1982
Clark Lauritzen, executive vice president of First National Bank of Omaha, says he got his introduction to banking playing Tiny Tim.
A first-grader at Brownell-Talbot when he was cast, Lauritzen was halfway through the show's 23-performance run when he told his father something was wrong. Actors were supposed to have contracts and get paid.
“He explained it was volunteers, but I persisted, so Dad agreed to pay me a dollar after each performance from then on. I saved the money and opened my first bank account.”
Lauritzen said his best memories of playing Tiny Tim are of Charles Jones, his director, and Dick Boyd, who played Scrooge for 30 years without missing a performance. “Both were gracious gentlemen, inspirational leaders for the cast and just really kind to me,” he said.
When he came down with the flu, Lauritzen's mother called to tell Jones to use the understudy that night. “There is no understudy,” Jones said. “If he's alive, you need to get him down here.”
As luck would have it, that was a two-performance Sunday. Lauritzen limped through, sleeping in Scrooge's bed between matinee and evening gigs. The show went on.
When he began dating his future wife, Emily Wahl, she mentioned she had been in “A Christmas Carol” as well. “We bonded over that,” he said.
It's not all positive, though. Lauritzen said he lives in constant fear that a videotape of his performance will surface. “My singing leaves something to be desired,” he said.
Melissa Laughlin, first tour, 1979
Ryan Laughlin is not the family's first Tiny Tim. That honor goes to his aunt, Melissa Laughlin, 41, who was the first to play Tim on tour, and the first girl in the role. Carl Beck, the Playhouse's artistic director, said about half the Tiny Tims on tour have been played by girls, simply because tour auditions do not draw as many young boys.
Melissa, who works in marketing for a Chicago consulting firm, said she first ended up in “A Christmas Carol” on the main stage, in the children's ensemble, by mistake.
“At 5 years old, I was considered too young, but I went along when my older brother and sister auditioned. I asked my dad why I couldn't try out.”
Her father explained director Charles Jones wanted older children, but he said she could ask Charles if she wanted.
“He looked me in the eyes and smiled, asked a couple questions and said he'd love to have me try out,” Laughlin said. “I think my father was surprised that I had the courage to ask.”
Laughlin said Jones' script bottles the essence of Christmas in a way that plays anywhere.
“Every time I hear that music, I get the feeling in my body that the show creates,” she said. “I've seen it nearly every year, and from the first bells that jingle, I get chills and my eyes well up with tears.”
Her favorite tour memory is playing cards in the back of the bus with Jim Boggess, the Playhouse's current music director, who was then touring with “Carol” as the beggar. Her mother, sister and brother toured with her when she played Tiny Tim.
“Scrooge may be the star of the show, but Tim is its heart,” she said.
Bailey Newman, tour 2004-06
Bailey Newman had already done “Carol” on the mainstage when she auditioned to play Tiny Tim on tour. “I thought it would be fun to play a boy and was excited about the touring experience,” she said from New York City, where she is studying acting at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
Newman, 19, loved touring when she was 9, 10 and 11. Matt Kamprath and Cork Ramer were her touring Scrooges.
“I was in fourth grade, and I could buy junk food my parents wouldn't allow and spend my money how I wanted. And I made friends on tour. I had a great time.” Touring taught her independence, responsibility and budgeting, among other things.
Her favorite thing about playing Tim? The limp. “I loved messing around with the crutch, both backstage and onstage.”
She auditioned on a dare. A boy in first grade, who was in the children's ensemble, bet her she couldn't get into the show. She “rubbed it in his face” when she proved him wrong.
Spencer Newman, mainstage 2003-06
Spencer Newman, 16, admits that he played Tiny Tim four times just to break his sister Bailey's streak of three. He also toured with the show in 2007.
Like Bailey, he said, he loved playing with the crutch. Backstage, it might become a guitar or a gun in his imagination. Unlike his sister, he now has no interest in acting. He's into soccer, the robotics team and the Model U.N. Club at Central High School, where he's a junior.
“I definitely got more confidence speaking in front of people and not being afraid in front of crowds,” he said. “It's a good social experience, getting to know people.”
One of his fondest tour memories is visiting the Civil War battleground at Gettysburg, Pa., with Matt Kamprath, who played Scrooge, as the group's tour guide. Kamprath knew all the history of the place, he said.
Zoey Newman, tour 2011 and 2013
The third child of Jody and Karli Newman to play Tiny Tim, Zoey is in eighth grade at Beveridge Magnet Middle School. At age 13, she's just 4-foot-7, which keeps her eligible to play Tim.
She already knows she wants to do it again next year.
“I always wanted to be like my older siblings,” she smiled. “Not now so much.”
Her favorite thing about the role is playing a boy and fooling audience members into thinking she really is one.
On tour, she and the actress who played Tim's sister, Belinda, became the best of friends.
“We did everything together, and she was always playing pranks on me.”
Unlike her brother Spencer, Zoey got all her homework done before leaving on tour. She said she'd love to be a director one day.