By Katie Lovett
---- — Sitting in the audience of the North Shore Music Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” last weekend, Jessica Sousa was nervous.
The Rowley mom couldn’t help but have butterflies in her stomach knowing that her 7-year-old daughter, Emily, was making her acting debut in the beloved Christmas musical. Earlier in the evening, a “very, very excited” Emily couldn’t wait to get to the theater for opening night.
When the Pine Grove School second-grader climbed onstage, however, Sousa’s fears disappeared. The girl is playing the role of Ignorance, as well as a Christmas caroler in the ensemble.
“She was totally calm up there,” Sousa said. “She looked, honestly, like she was in her glory. She had the biggest smile on her face.”
Puzzled, her 5-year-old sister, Kayla, wondered why Emily wasn’t waving back to her as she signaled her from her seat in a row close to the stage, Sousa said with a laugh.
That stage presence may be due to the fact that while this is Emily’s first play, it isn’t the first time she’s performed for an audience. Since she was 3 years old, Emily has taken dance classes at Donna Coco studio, Performance Plus in Salisbury. No stranger to the stage, when the girl heard about an acting workshop at North Shore Music Theatre last summer, she asked her mom if she could attend. There, she learned of the upcoming auditions for the musical.
“It’s really fun,” Emily said. “I just like that I get to be on stage. I like how you get to dance.”
The play, which has become a holiday tradition for many families around the North Shore, is based on the Charles Dickens classic in which the miserly, Christmas-hating Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future one Christmas Eve as they seek to teach him a lesson and change his destiny.
The show runs through Dec. 23 at the Beverly theater.
Being able to work alongside professional, veteran actors for her first play has been a “huge life experience” for her daughter, Sousa said.
“She’s had so much more of an education than she would in an entire year of acting workshops. She’s learned so much.”
Along with Emily, the musical includes two other familiar actors: Amesbury’s Julia Yameen is playing the role of Scrooge’s sister, Fan, and veteran acting professional John Budzyna is among the ensemble.
Julia, a sixth-grader at Amesbury Middle School, is also performing at the Beverly theater- in-the-round for the first time, but her resume includes numerous other local theaters and join in community productions. The 11-year-old has had roles in “Pinkalicious” at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine and a Pentucket Players production of “The Sound of Music.”
In 2010, Julia played the lead in a Pentucket Players production of “Annie,” and last month, she also had the starring role in The Actorsingers production of “Annie” in Nashua, N.H. She also dances at Performance Plus in Salisbury, where she first met Emily. She was assigned to be her “big sister” through a program Coco put in place for her youngest students.
“It’s much different,” Julia said of acting on a round stage and using the aisles. “When you’re on the stage that ‘Annie’ was performed on, you always have to make sure you’re facing the audience so they can hear you.”
Julia first saw “A Christmas Carol” at North Shore Music Theatre when her friend, Maggie Budzyna of Newburyport, played the role of one of Bob Crachit’s children.
“I was amazed at the whole performance, how good everyone was, how good the technical work was,” Julia said. “That’s when I really wanted to try out for one of their shows.
“It’s really fun; I’ve made a lot of new friends,” she added.
David Coffee, who has played the role of Scrooge for many years, is “welcoming to all the kids,” Julia said. “He’s really funny.
“A lot of people are Equity in the show, it’s so cool to be working with professional actors,” she added. “This is probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
For Newburyport’s John Budzyna, the former director of the Firehouse Center for the Arts who now works as the executive director for the Arlington Center for the Arts, is also performing in the NSMT’s “A Christmas Carol” for the first time. His long resume, however, includes recent stints in “The Music Man” with the Greater Lowell Music Theatre, “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Godspell.”
Budzyna also co-wrote and appeared in the Firehouse’s parody “Forbidden Newburyport” last year.
As an ensemble member in “A Christmas Carol,” he plays four different characters during the show, including a caroler, a party guest and Scrooge’s friend and co-worker Dick Wilkins.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to do a show here,” Budzyna said. In the late 1990s, he worked for the theater as the manager of group sales.
The holiday classic has always had a special place in his family as his daughter, Maggie, was cast in the show for the last two years.
“It just brings back such great memories,” Budzyna said.
One of the best moments of the show, he added, is during the curtain call, when the entire cast assembles on stage and sings “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”
Looking out onto the audience and seeing families dressed in holiday attire, “with pure joy on their faces,” singing along with the actors is amazing, he said.
“It’s really just a magical show.”
IF YOU GO
What: “A Christmas Carol”
Where: North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly
When: Performances run through Dec. 23
How: Tickets range from $45 to $60. To purchase, call the box office at 978-232-7200, visit www.nsmt.org or visit the theater. At all performances, the theater will be collecting for Toys for Tots in the lobby.