A Christmas Carol, Best Western, Charles Dickens, Jacob Marley, The Country Cupboard, The Hotel Hershey
Having done all of my driving on Tuesday, it meant that I could have a nice relaxing morning on Wednesday. I woke fairly early, and decided to fold all of my costume shirts, which were still in the laundry bag. As I carefully laid each one out on the bed, I counted them off in relation to my remaining shows and was delighted to discover that the number of clean shirts corresponds exactly with the number of performances remaining on this tour!
When shirts were folded and blog post written, I walked to the lobby for breakfast which, as is the norm at the moment, was a pared back version of what the Best Western usually offer. I chose a pot of oatmeal and poured water to the required level before putting it into the microwave for 2 minutes, as stated on the pot. When the ‘ping’ sounded, I opened the door to discover that my porridge had exploded and made a terrible mess. I called for the lady who presided over breakfast and confessed my breakfast sin to her. ‘Oh, that’s OK, I can clean that – it is always happening. Last week an egg exploded!’ She seemed to suggest that my folly with the oatmeal was much less serious that ‘egg-gate’.
After breakfast I still had over two hours before my sound check, so I decided to unpack my running and swimming gear for the first time and headed down to the fitness centre and pool. Over the last year I have ‘discovered’ running and have greatly enjoyed pounding the country lanes around our home, but the treadmill in the gym really didnt do it for me. I ran for a short distance, albeit at a much faster pace than I would normally run at home, and then swam lengths of the pool. I didnt push myself too hard as I was due to perform twice in the afternoon and I didnt want to use all of my energy before I even set foot on the stage.
At 11 o’clock I walked the short distance from the hotel to the large function room at The Country Cupboard store where I found Missy Grant Swartz placing individual seat numbers on all of the 250 chairs that had been laid out ready for my performances. We greeted each other like the old friends that we are, as Missy has been looking after my events at CC over the last decade or so. As ever the room looked spectacular, with a large stage at one end complete with a fireplace and furniture taken from the store. Two huge Christmas trees, decorated in gold, flanked the stage, and touches of greenery added the final touches.
As with so many venues on this years’ tour, it really didn’t feel as if we had missed a year and in no time we were chatting and going over the plans for the day as if Covid had never happened. I re-arranged a few pieces of furniture, and asked if we could not use the electric lamp that had been provided (it looked a bit anachronistic in a ‘Victorian’ room), and then did a mic check. I ran through various lines including some quieter moments as well as the more bombastic scenes, and when Missy was satisfied, we agreed to reconvene at 1.30 ready for the first show.
I walked back to the hotel and drove to a nearby store to buy a salad and some fruit for my lunch, which I ate in the hotel, before getting ready for the afternoon show. I got into my costume, making sure I had everything with me, and then walked through the hotel, masked of course.
Although The Country Cupboard is a store, it also features a large buffet-style restaurant, and the audience were enjoying a lunch before moving into the theatre. Missy had arranged for a separate room, just off the restaurant, to be available for me to wait in and I sat and listened as the audience gathered. I could also here Kj singing from the stage. Kj Reimensnyder-Wagner is the third part of our triumvirate, and a superbly talented singer/songwriter who always entertains my audiences by performing a series of carols and festive songs. I stood at the door to the hall, as the audience gathered, and could tell from the way that they joined in with the singing, that they were going to be a good crowd.
As 2 o’clock arrived, Kj signed off with her final song, and then her and Missy executed a well-rehearsed plan: Missy removed the microphone stand from the stage, whilst Kj unplugged her guitar and placed it on the floor. Next, Missy took the microphone from the stand and began to make her welcoming remarks, while Kj made her way to the back of the room to prepare the first sound cue. It all worked perfectly, and in a moment I was walking to the stage ready to begin.
I had been right about the audience; they were excellent and lively and fun. Many were old fans and knew the show well, but a show of hands to Missy’s question ‘who is here for the first time?’ had shown a goodly number of newbies were. The performance went very well, and I relished in the sheer space of the stage, giving me plenty of room to execute a very theatrical and physical performance, which had the sweat dripping from my forehead by Marley’s entrance.
The microphone was popping and banging against my costume a bit, which was slightly annoying, but on the whole, it was an excellent show and one that I was extremely happy with. At the end I took my bows and then remained on stage, while the audience sat down, and started another fun question and answer session: these have really proved popular throughout the tour and have been an excellent replacement for the very long signing sessions that I used to do after a show. Yes, it means remaining on the stage for longer, but it is no different to the time I would have spent working through a long queue of people, and not being able to give anyone much attention.
Having answered some interesting questions about Charles Dickens himself, especially how his readings were staged compared to my performances, and of course dealing with the ‘favourite film version’ issue, I eventually brought the afternoon’s events to a close and left the stage to more applause.
When the main room was clear I returned to reset the stage for the next performance, said hello to Kj at last and then went back to the hotel to change ‘for dinner’
It has become a tradition over the years that Missy, Kj and I get together for dinner, from the buffet, between the shows. This year has been a particularly difficult one for both of them, but they are both strong and resilient women and are both looking to what the future can bring, rather than back at the hand the past has dealt them. As always it was lovely chatting and exchanging news, and at the end of our meal we gathered on the stage for our annual ‘cast’ photo. I was wearing my Christmas sweater, and earlier in the day I had sent Liz a selfie of me in it sitting in front of a Christmas tree, she had pointed out that it looked like a cover shot for an Andy Williams Christmas LP and now on the stage, holding Kj’s guitar, it looked even more so!
I returned to my room, where I didn’t have long before needing to change back into costume and prepare for the second show. The routine was the same, and again I stood at the back of the hall sipping black tea and honey (another tradition here: back in the old days of a much longer tour I would often arrive at CC exhausted, with my voice scratchy and tired. A black tea and honey is an excellent way of soothing the throat and, even though my voice was fine this year, still Missy always provides me with the restorative elixir). Again, the audience were joining in and singing with Kj, and once more I knew it would be a lively show, which it was.
Strangely at first, I didn’t feel fully connected with the script, I can’t quite describe why, there was nothing wrong, I didn’t forget anything or stumble, but the words seemed to be coming out of someone else’s mouth, while I observed, but that passed very quickly and soon I was right back into the swing of things again, and at the end of the show the audience stood and applauded once more.
The Q&A followed a similar pattern as the afternoon, indeed with the same question about CD’s readings compared to my show, which was interesting. But the last two questions took a surprising turn: the penultimate query was the ‘what is your favourite movie version’, and I gave my regular answer actually listing my three favourties (I won’t give the game away….). When I had wound up that answer I suggested that we had time for one more question, and a hand shot up at the back of the room: ‘Have you ver seen the Barbie version?’ Barbie?! Barbie? There is a Barbie version of A Christmas Carol? I couldn’t get my mind around that at all! Does Ken come to haunt Barbie Scrooge? Are all of the characters Barbies? Even as I left the stage my mind was boggling over this most extraordinary revaltion. I am not sure if I will hunt it out, or not, but there is certainly an insane curiosity to see how my great great grandfather’s work has been adapted to suit a slim blonde plastic doll!
When most of the audience had left I returned to the hall to gather my things, and Missy told me that there was a lady and a boy who wished to say ‘hello’ What a wonderful surprise for there was Derek, who always came to see me when I performed at The Hotel Hershey. And here he was, grown tall now. Derek and his grandparents always gave me a gift at Hershey, most memorably a supply of beer (when Derek was 6), in honour of the line at Fezziwig’s party, ‘there were mince pies and plenty of beer!’, and now they gave me another gift, a copy of the Muppet’s Christmas Carol. They had travelled a good distance to see the show, and it was a wonderful way to end the day.
I collected up all of my things and said goodbye to Missy and KJ before going back to the room and enjoying a huge slice of apple pie that Missy had sent back with me. It had been an energetic day and I would have a fairly early start in the morning, so once the adrenaline subsided, sleep came quickly.