“Reprinted with permission from the Omaha World-Herald.”
Publication: Omaha World-Herald
Byline: Bob Fischbach
Headline: Grateful Scrooge ends 30 yules of grumbling
Grateful Scrooge ends 30 yules of grumbling
By Bob Fischbach
World-Herald Staff Writer
Forty-five minutes before his final performance in “A Christmas Carol,” Dick Boyd sat in his tiny shared dressing room, sounding very much like — well, Scrooge.
“There are too many generous people in this cast,” he grumbled, smiling broadly. “They start with Christmas when rehearsals start, and they never quit.”
You couldn’t really blame him. In his first 20 minutes at the Omaha Community Playhouse on Thursday night, Boyd sat through three television interviews, all the while fielding a stream of gifts, cards, hugs and well-wishers. It never let up.
Thursday, Boyd took his final bows as Scrooge, ending the most spectacular theatrical run in Omaha history. He never missed one of the 818 performances of “A Christmas Carol” over 30 holiday seasons. Counting Thursday’s sellout, he has played to an astonishing 442,855 people.
Luckily, he doesn’t need time to put on makeup anymore. At age 83, time has given him all the character lines he needs.
But Boyd wasn’t showing his age Thursday. Shadowing him backstage on his final night turned out to be exhausting duty. In a physically demanding role that has him climbing ladders, slinging children over his shoulder, flying through the air tethered to a cable, leaping and dancing and crawling, the star of the night had little time to think about what this final performance meant to him.
“Tomorrow morning, 8:30, I get a haircut,” he told his dressing room visitors. “Back to normal.”
Thursday night was anything but normal. From the wings on both sides of the stage, cast, crew and visitors squeezed in to watch Boyd’s every move, many of them snapping photos, all of them excited to witness a bit of local history.
Out front, a crowd that included several dozen “Christmas Carol” alumni was generous with its laughter and applause. Boyd’s first entrance, seated at his counting-house desk and scribbling at a ledger, brought nearly 30 seconds of applause. Boyd scribbled on, staying in character until it subsided.
Bob Snipp, ending 29 years as the Ghost of Christmas Present, also triggered a big hand at his first appearance, starting off Act 2.
Backstage, a costumes mistress told Boyd to take any keepsakes he’d like to have. He kept his long red scarf, his coin purse and his top hat.
Onstage, Boyd did an un-Scroogelike thing he’d never done before: He gave away coins to cast members. In the home stretch, he hadn’t a coin left to pay for the Christmas goose. He told the boy with the sled he’d have to charge it.
Between scenes, wife Miriam, in her 17th year with the show, and granddaughter Elizabeth Boyd, who has been moving scenery on and off for four seasons, kept Boyd occupied, along with that stream of hugs that never let up.
“Thanks for all the years,” Boyd said to scenic designer Jim Othuse in one of those backstage moments.
“Oh, it was my pleasure,” Othuse shot back instantly.
And even as the Boyd era played out, a tiny slice of the buzz was about next year, when some new scenery and costumes are planned along with the obvious need to recast some key roles.
Othuse confirmed some changes are in the wind, “but not a total new look.” The show will keep its Victorian flavor, he explained, while adding special effects to street and bedroom scenes.
In spite of the end-of-an-era clamor, the show buzzed along without a hitch. A little more glitter than usual sloshed from the cup of kindness as Boyd drank deeply atop his four-poster.
An actress playing young Ebenezer’s fiancee had to dry her tears before going onstage to break their engagement. A stagehand forgot to turn off a fog machine, but his error was caught within seconds as the Ghost of Christmas Future loomed large.
Near the end as he prepared to go onstage, Boyd leaned close to a hobby horse he was about to carry on, hiding his face for a long private moment.
And then, suddenly, after one final onstage smooch with his wife, it was over.
Waves of cast members were met by waves of applause, peaking with the man of the hour. Great-granddaughter Laine Swanger, 2, toddled on with a single red rose for him.
Dry-eyed, he waved the crowd silent after two solid minutes and had a final word.
Turning to his cast: “You were wonderful, and I love you all.”
After acknowledging the orchestra, Boyd beckoned crew members onstage for one final chorus of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” before the curtain was wrung down at 10:08 p.m. More tears and hugs backstage.
A mob of greeters, including several former Tiny Tims, packed the lobby long after, and a cast party followed that.
Box office officials said 98 percent of the seats for Boyd’s final year were filled, a record per-show average attendance.
Honors for Dick Boyd during his 30th and final season playing Ebenezer Scrooge:
Nov. 18: For opening night, Mayor Mike Fahey declares Dick Boyd Day in Omaha, and Gov. Dave Heineman makes Boyd an admiral in the mythical Nebraska Navy.
Nov. 20: U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne attends and presents Boyd, who is a huge Big Red fan, with a signed football.
Nov. 30: Homecoming for all former members of the cast and crew of “A Christmas Carol,” with a party for Boyd after the show. It marks Boyd’s 800th performance.
Dec. 9: Omaha Chamber of Commerce board of directors honors Boyd at a breakfast.
Dec. 10: Breakfast with Scrooge at the Playhouse, and Boyd is mobbed by children.
Dec. 13: USA Today features Boyd on the cover of its Life section.
Dec. 16: ABC’s “World News Tonight” features Boyd as its person of the week.
Dec. 22: Council Bluffs Rotary honors Boyd at a breakfast, and Omaha Downtown Rotary honors him at lunch. A cast party follows Boyd’s final performance at the Playhouse.
Attending Dick Boyd’s final performance in “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 22, 2005:
His wife of 55 years, Miriam, who was part of the cast for 17 years.
His children, Richard, Carol, Lynne and Ann, plus eight of his 11 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
His choreographer, Joanne Cady, and members of her family.
The family of Charles Jones, who wrote the show, directed it for 22 years and cast Boyd in the role. Among them: Jones’ widow, Eleanor, part of the show’s original production team; their son Geoffrey and grandchild Katy, all of Omaha; and Eleanor’s mother, Elean Brody, 90, of Wylam, Ala.