Hometown Humbug: Behind the Scenes of Ira David Wood III’s A Christmas Carol

Loyalties and families formed within the cast of our long-running production of Charles Dickens’ story.
by Melissa Howsam | photographs by Bryan Regan

Woven into the fabric of Raleigh’s identity is a storied tradition, quite literally: Whether you’re a native or a newbie, you can’t get through the holidays without hearing about A Christmas Carol, adapted as a musical comedy by famed director Ira David Wood III for Theatre in the Park.

“Its message has never grown old or become outmoded,” says Wood. “We need to be reminded that we have the opportunity to transform ourselves into better people, particularly in times such as these.” Wood’s version of the story, infused with nods to current events, is a unique and ever-changing telling of the Charles Dickens classic that has delighted families for 46 years—and it’s even bred a few families of its own.

It starts at the top: Wood III, who has historically played Scrooge, now trades off the role with his son, Ira David Wood IV. And the younger Wood’s son, eight-year-old Thomas Miller Wood, also stars in the show. “It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to stand on that stage with my own family next to me,” says Wood III, “and to expand that wondrous sense of togetherness to include all those who’ve become part of our extended theater family.”

Castmate David Moore, who’s played Bob Cratchit for the last 22 years, met his now-wife Carol Moore (then Langley) through cast matchmakers in 1993. They’ve been together on and off the stage since. “This show has blessed my family and life in too many ways to list,” says Carol Moore, who joined the show in 1984.

Carol Moore’s three (now grown) children have also been castmates, as was their father, whom Moore credits as the reason they were all in the show to begin with. David Moore, who has two grown children of his own, says the play resonates for them year-round. “Blended family life can be both challenging and fulfilling,” he says. “A second chance, like Scrooge received, has gifted us in immeasurable ways. A Christmas Carol, past, present and future, lives in our bones all year.”

Brooke Miller, Carol Moore’s daughter, has been performing in the show for 22 years—and she also met her spouse through the show. She was off to college the first time her now-husband James Miller performed in 1999, but they got connected when she returned home for a cast party. Flash forward: their 13-year old twins have performed with the show for the last eight years.

“We’ve watched very young cast members grow into adults, and we’ve mourned cast members who have passed,” says Brooke Miller. “This community extends our family beyond the walls of our home.”

“The show is truly a bonding experience as we work together towards a common goal of bringing Christmas joy to our audiences,” says cast member and Theatre in the Park managing director Brent Simpson. “Lifetime friendships are made and kept.” The cast typically includes around 85 performers, about half of whom have been in the production before.

Part of what drives this closeness is the rigorous rehearsal schedule: for two and a half months each year, the cast will rehearse five days a week, three hours at a time, before getting into the performances. “It’s a big commitment, but it’s not tedious work,” says Simpson. “David jokes around, he’s a great director, he’s funny and he keeps everybody entertained.”

The production will look different this year—but as the saying goes, the show must go on. Like so many things, A Christmas Carol will be virtual, a ticketed stream of a past production. “As the lamplighter says in the play, Charles Dickens wrote the story, I don’t pretend to tell it exactly how he wrote it, but the meaning is the same,” says Simpson. And perhaps there is no better time for this show’s message, regardless of medium, than now.

“A Christmas Carol enables our family to live many of the values we hold dear,” says Brooke Miller. “Dickens showcases the need for kindness and generosity in our world, while Wood’s annual production brings inclusivity, creativity and love.”

The sentiment is not lost on Wood III: “Long after I draw my last breath, I’ll still be standing on that stage with them, sharing the true meaning of Christmas with those I love… with those who have loved me in return.”