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Paul Benedict As Scrooge... Brilliant!

By Gary Wien


You probably know him best as Bentley on "The Jeffersons" but Paul Benedict has had a truly remarkable acting career. His body of work includes films like "The Freshman", "The Addams Family", and "Waiting For Guffman". His stage credits include runs on Broadway in Eugene O'Neill's Hughie (opposite Al Pacino), Meredith Willson's The Music Man, Terrence McNally's Bad Habits, and William Shakespeare's Richard III. This December, Benedict tackles a role from one of his favorite novels of all-time, "A Christmas Carol" when he becomes this year's Scrooge in McCarter Theatre's annual production of the holiday classic.

I had a chance to speak with Benedict while the play was in rehearsals.

Tell me about playing a character like Scrooge. He's such a part of society and our history that everybody knows the character deeply. What is it like to tackle a role like that?
Oh, it's wonderful. It's always been a favorite story of mine. I'm a little long in the tooth - I'm 68 - and it's tough to take on a role this size with this much running around at my age, but I'm happy doing it.

It's a great story. It's one of those five or six great stories that have ever been conceived and will last forever. It's an interesting thing that everybody who comes except for the little children have heard the story before. And that's good, they're sort of prepared with it.

I had an odd early life where my family broke up when I was about five and I went into state homes with my brothers and sisters and I bounced around a bit. It was very Dickensian. It's very hard to get a Dickensian youth in this country, so I think that helps me a lot. There's a lot to draw on there. I keep running into things in rehearsals and the play that suddenly drive home a memory to me that I'd forgotten for sixty years! That's a wonderful thing when that happens. It feeds what's going on.

The trick about playing Scrooge that you find out when you play it is that it's basically the same as a Shakespearian role in that the language of Charles Dickens is very, very rich like Shakespeare's. And his journey is the most amazing journey from the worst man in the world to the best man in the world. The emotional flip flop that you go through is enormous. It's like playing one of the big Shakespearian characters. I was surprised to find that out.

Is it difficult for the cast of a play like The Christmas Carol to keep things fresh when most of the audience will likely have seen it before?
Well if you go on stage and do Hamlet you're telling a familiar story. I don't think there's any problem with that. I would just like to think that it's a great delight for the kids who may have heard about A Christmas Carol but never gotten the story before. I think it must be a great delight.

It's funny, I can still remember reading it for the first time. It wasn't that early, I was in the 7th grade when I first read it. It just knocked me out of my socks. It's wonderful.

It's one of the few stories that can be done in so many different ways - drama, comedy, musical, etc.

I like what Michael (Unger) has done because the blend of comedy and drama is really good. Some of it should make them cry, I hope; and a great deal of it should make them laugh. It's wonderful to do a piece like that where it isn't just drama or just comedy.

You've done a lot of work on stage, television and film. What is it like to be a character actor when you happen to stumble across a role like that of Bentley on The Jeffersons which lives on forever. Did you find people casting you towards that type of role or were cast opposite that of a Bentley?
No, unfortunately in this business if you do something that seems to work everybody follows. It's like when I first started acting on stage they found out I was good at comedy and then that's all they wanted to cast me in. And that's been true most of my career, I have to fight to get anything that's dramatic.

Well I thought you being cast for Scrooge was brilliant.
Well, God knows I'm old enough! Thank you for saying that, but what's right about it is my age and by cooincidence my life. It's terribly appealing to me. Any actor would love to play this role.

I don't know if you've heard about this or how much you use the Internet, but you'd be amazed at how many clips people have posted on Youtube of you from your days on Sesame Street as the Number Painter.
Somebody has been telling me about that and the director brought in a little thing and showed me a couple of them. I'd forgotten what they even looked like it was so long ago. We shot them in 1969 and they started showing them in 1970 - that's a long time ago.

And I don't do computers! I'm trying to get off the planet without ever using them or cellphones. I hope I make it, we'll see.

It's funny about the things that last forever.
Yeah, that's right. Most of them are very good things and some very bad things too.

One of the things I love about theatre is that it's very much dealing with the present or in the now.
Exactly! Luckily in a nice way, I'm stopped sometimes by people on the street and I think oh, they're going to say weren't you on "The Jeffersons" or I loved this movie or something. But then some of them will say 'do you know when you did that speech?' and they'll name a play from 30 years ago. Some of their remarks are wonderful. The feeling of something they went through when they went to see the play. That's always extremely rewarding. I'm always floored by that because it's so much better in a way than being told you were great in a movie five years ago.



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The Panto Company Presents "Beauty and the Beast" at The Newton Theatre
(NEWTON, NJ) -- When you think of a dying rose and a clock, candlestick andteapot who talk... you are thinking Beauty and the Beast. One of this season's spellbinding family shows from The Panto Company USA stars Dame Dotty Potty, Loopy Louie, Gaston, Belle and of course The Beast!  The company brings their show to The Newton Theatre on Sunday, March 3 at 3:00pm.
La Strada Ensemble Theater Presents "La Bella Familia" by Edwin Sanchez
(OCEAN GROVE, NJ) -- La Strada Ensemble Theater presents La Bella Familia by Edwin Sanchez from January 18-20.  The play deals with a Puerto Rican hit woman and the gentlest man in the world move next door to the neighbors from hell and everyone learns, the hard way, that family comes first.
Art House Productions Presents "The Passion Project" by Reid Farrington
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Art House Productions presents the unique theatrical experience that is Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project performed by Laura K. Nicoll.  Eight performances will take place from February 21st to March 3rd. The Passion Project is a 30 minute vibration between performance, film, and installation. Carl Th.Dreyer’s 1928 immortal masterpiece, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is the main narrative along with the history behind the making of the film, a discussion with a Danish archivist, the story of making this project, as well as Joan’s own story –– her trial, torture, and execution. The Passion Project explodes the film into the three dimensions; placing the audience inside the film, sitting next to Joan, subjecting them to the relentless rhythm of 35 mm film projection.
4th Wall Theatre Presents "Intimate Apparel" by Lynn Nottage
(MAPLEWOOD, NJ) -- 4TH WALL THEATRE continues its 22nd season with a one weekend run of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.  The show will be presented as part of the Black History Month celebrations on February 22, 23, and 24 at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts in Maplewood, NJ.  The show is directed by 4th Wall Executive Director Gwen Ricks-Spencer.
East Lynne Theater, the Henry Sawyer Inn, and Twin Gable's Inn present Murder Mystery Weekends
(CAPE MAY, NJ) -- The award-winning East Lynne Theater Company, with The Henry Sawyer Inn and Twin Gables Inn, present Murder Mystery Weekends on February 15-16, March 8-9, March 22-23, March 29-30, and April 5-6. Participants can test their crime-solving skills while staying in one of these lovely Bed & Breakfasts. East Lynne Theater Company's Murder Mystery Weekends were cited among one of the top five in the country by "AM NY."  


It's "Apple Season" at NJ Rep
Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared. Those are often the most powerful.
Rise of the Goatman
Theater For The New City presents Beltsville/Rockville, Part 1: Rise of the Goatman, an original play by Englewood resident Matt Okin (Artistic Director of Black Box Studios), from December 27 through January 13. In this pseudo-Southern Gothic dark comedy, a vibrant group of teens from two very different suburban neighborhoods clash over class differences, drugs, and sex - and the existence of the legendary ‘Goatman’ in 1986. Cut to 2013, and the adolescent kids of those very same teens are struggling to make sense of their family histories - and the same “mythological” creature - that could be holding them back in life.
PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run now through December 30. 
REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre
Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST.  It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign.  On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Betsy Aidem Puts A Woman's Touch On George Street Playhouse's "A Doll's House, Part 2"
Betsy Aidem is a veteran actress you might have seen on Broadway. Or maybe on an episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” Or maybe on the big screen last year in “The Greatest Showman.” But over the next few weeks in New Brunswick, Aidem is adding a brand-new section to her résumé — by helming a sequel (of sorts) to a classic play that’s more than 100 years old.






Event calendar
Thursday, Jan 17, 2019


MUSIC


Open Mic Night! @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 7:30pm


THEATRE

"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm


KIDS

AMERICAN GIRL LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 7:00pm

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