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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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Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.
Pebble Players Presents "Heathers, the Musical: High School Edition"
(SUMMIT, NJ) -- Celebrating their 10th season, Pebble Players has been entertaining Summit residents and audiences from surrounding towns with sophisticated Off-Broadway quality performances. The 2018 Season opens with "Heathers The Musical: High School Edition," directed by Jayne Myers and choreographed by Jaimie Woodruff.  Performances are Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17 at 7:30pm and Sunday, November 18 at 2:00pm. 
NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies from Thursday, March 21, 2019 - Saturday, March 23, 2019. The high-style music of “The Duke” is the heart and soul of this 1981 Tony-winning Broadway hit, directed with dazzle by André De Shields (The Wiz). Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington, re-creates the original show’s elegant dancing and tapping as choreographer.
Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater present Teahouse by Lao She
(PRINCETON, NJ) --Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Teahouse by Lao She on November 16, 17 and 18 at 8:00pm and November 17 at 2:00pm in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. Teahouse is considered a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese theater, spanning 50 years in modern Chinese history from the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Republican Revolution to the birth of the People’s Republic, bringing together over sixty characters who represent all walks of life. The production is directed by senior Changshuo Liu.
Axelrod's Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program Presents "Peter Pan"
(OCEAN TOWNSHIP, NJ) --  A family musical that’s perfect for the holiday season, “Peter Pan” is flying onto the Axelrod stage December 8-16. Axelrod’s award-winning Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts program presents one of Broadway’s timeless classics in a fully staged production directed by Lisa Goldfarb with musical direction by Randy Hurst and choreography by Wendy Roman.  


Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
Jennifer Fawcett’s new play centers around a mother in a kitchen, doing something countless people across America will take part in over the upcoming holiday season: making an apple pie.
See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!
"It's a Blast!" Go See Rock of Ages 10th Anniversary Tour NOW! at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino!
The five-time Tony award-nominated Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, returns to the stage with a 10th Anniversary Tour at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino! Performed in the venue’s ultra-modern Sound Waves theater, Rock of Ages runs from now until November 4, 2018.
There's One In Every Family: "Charley's Aunt" at The Shakespeare Theatre
On stage now through November 18 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, “Charley’s Aunt” is described as “part Oscar Wilde, part ‘Fawlty Towers,’ with a dash of South American spice!” This side-splitting British farce from 1892 has drag, mistaken identity, romance and plenty of physical comedy. Join Jesse and Dave at rehearsals in Florham Park to hear from the cast and director what makes this such a hilarious and enduring show.






Event calendar
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018


MUSIC

New Politics @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

THE REPUTATIONS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

TOTO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


THEATRE

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

ANNIE, The Musical @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 7:30pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 7:30pm

Spring Awakening: The Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm







DANCE

PARSONS DANCE @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm


FILM

Crybaby Matinee: March of the Penguins @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

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