You know Bruce Cromer. Maybe you’ve seen him as Lear at Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival or as C.S. Lewis at Ensemble Theatre, but certainly you know him as Ebenezer Scrooge. Cromer has been playing the role in A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse since 2004. We caught up with him between teaching at Wright State (he’s head of acting) and rehearsing for his one-man performance of An Iliad, a modern adaptation of Homer’s epic poem, at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. We just had to ask: What’s it like to be totally Scrooged?
You’re busy. When do rehearsals start for A Christmas Carol? About the second week of November. They bring me in a little later because I hopefully know my stuff. I sometimes tell friends, it’s the closest equivalent I have to doing a Broadway show—it’s just that I get nine months off between performances.
What was the biggest challenge learning the role in the first place? Joneal Joplin [had been playing it for eight years]. He’s one of my icons. Living up to what Joneal had done, knowing I’d have to do it differently, and then trying to find the sides of my personality that fit into Scrooge. I will say that by now, I’m confident and I love it. It’s only when I’m sick that I don’t feel like I’m giving people what they’re paying for.
Working with kids in a holiday show, I would think getting sick is an occupational hazard. And the poor little guys! Patrick Naylor was my first Tiny Tim when I played Bob Cratchit. Poor Patrick—he was 6 or 7—he got sick and still had to go on. He was a great little trouper. Now when I’m ill I say, “If Patrick could do it, I’m gonna get out there!”
The character has been done by so many different actors. Is there a Scrooge that you take particular delight in? Lionel Barrymore used to do it on radio. One year he got sick and his brother John took it over. He was already a little bit in the bag when he started the performance. I bet that performance was brilliant. Maybe alcohol induced, but brilliant.
Can you imagine Christmas without Carol? No. I will keep doing it until the Playhouse says that’s enough, or until I can’t remember the lines or walk on stage. It really does become a part of you.