Diversity and New Stars Shine in Austin’s Annual Christmas Carol Musical

Chanel Haynes-Schwartz in 'Christmas Carol: A Rockin' Family Musical' (2016) at the Zach Theatre in Austin. Photo by Rachel Appelgate.
This year’s show lets the actors shine, including amazing solo renditions of holiday classics.

Christmas Carol, A Rockin’ Family Musical returns to Zach Theatre’s Topher stage for the third year, with its most diverse cast and musical lineup yet.

In addition to contemporary hits like “Raise Your Glass,” and classics like “Man in the Mirror,” this year’s production adds traditional carols, such as “O’ Holy Night,” powerfully rendered by Paul Sanchez (in the role of Bob Cratchit), and for which he received a standing ovation during a recent performance.

This year’s show takes the actors out from under a bushel.

As always, Zach has outdone itself with a simple, tasteful production design, but this year’s show takes the actors out from “under a bushel” – to quote Kenny Williams, as the Ghost of Christmas Past – and lets them shine, including amazing solos from performers who are African American, including Chanel Haynes-Schwartz, Roderick Sandford, and Williams.

Mercy Dahn Bovik, now starring in "A Christmas Carol." Photo courtesy of Zach Theatre.
Mercy Dahn Bovik, now starring in “A Christmas Carol.” Photo courtesy of Zach Theatre.

Rising stars on stage include 12-year-old Mercy Dahn Bovik, a seventh grader at Austin Montessori School who reached Level 4A at Ballet Austin before taking time to focus on her acting. She’s currently also starring as Fern in Charlotte’s Web on Zach’s Wisenhut stage through Jan. 15.

“I like that it’s diverse, and there’s a lot of songs and dancing and just a lot of happiness, and sadness as well,” Bovik says of this year’s Christmas Carol, where her dancing is eye-catching in the children’s ensemble. Performing with the Zach since age six, this is her third year to appear in the musical that’s now an Austin tradition.

“From the cast I’m learning about life and getting to know their personalities,” she says. She hopes one day to star on Broadway.

Contemporary music and state-of-the-art special effects make the Zach’s retelling relatable to younger audiences.

While keeping key plot points and dialogue from the original story (“Every imbecile who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart,” growls Jaston Williams, as Scrooge), the contemporary music and state-of-the-art special effects make the Zach’s retelling relatable to younger audiences.

Director Dave Steakley writes, “I have several friends who have committed themselves as foster parents or have adopted children, and I greatly admire their generous capacity for giving more of themselves than they ever imagined they were capable of, and exponentially reaping the rewards of a greater capacity to love.

“In honor of these families and in homage to the seven children of the Dickens family, I decided to make the Cratchits an adoptive family, welcoming any child who needs a loving home. In this home, human kindness is overflowing.”

Bovik’s parents adopted her from Liberia when she was less than a year old, and her mom, Golda Sahayam, says she appreciates Steakley’s plot changes.

“I am happy that Dave Steakely cast such a diverse group of actors for the Crachit family,” says Sahayam. “My family is a very diverse family, and each of us looks different. This is a great way to show that families don’t have to look all the same. I’m excited about diversity everywhere, from Hamilton in New York to Christmas Carol in Texas. Maybe we can all see beyond race and what people look like!”


Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 31. Buy tickets online.

Neo Bramlett contributed to this story.

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