Christmas classic given a new twist

Claremont secondary stages High School Christmas Carol

Tess Kotchonoski and Steven Hao - Grade 10 students at Claremont Secondary - play ghostly cheerleaders in the school’s production of High School Christmas Carol

What if Ebenezer Scrooge was more like Regina George? Equally cold-hearted, but a teenage cheer squad queen bee instead of an elderly penny-pinching curmudgeon.

Starting this week, the students from Claremont Secondary’s year-long drama program are presenting a modern twist on the Charles Dickens classic with High School Christmas Carol, in what can only be described as Mean Girls meets Scrooged. The production is set at West End High and features Meredith Priestly, the most popular girl in school, as its mean-spirited protagonist.

“She’s rich, she’s very entitled – she feels like she’s better than everyone else, but I think it’s a wall she puts up,” said Grade 12 student Cassandra Husk, who portrays Priestly. “She does have a soft side.

“It’s a super fun role to play,” added Husk, who’s been performing since she was 10. “I really enjoy it. It’s very different than me.”

Fellow senior Joscelyne Tamburri plays the supporting lead Melissa Barclay, Priestly’s best friend and a stark contrast from high school royalty.

“She’s really rich and really vain while I am really poor, I live in a trailer, my family’s gone, I just have a sister who’s dying and I’m trying to find the positive side of life,” said Tamburri, noting she’s the Bob Cratchit of the story. “Meredith treats her absolutely horribly, but she’s the most sweet and sincere person. She’s willing to do anything for her friends.

“She’s kind of a doormat, but she’s actually really strong when it comes to her family. You get to see the whole arc of the character.”

Throughout the course of the play, Priestley mistreats just about everyone until she’s visited by ghosts of West End High past, who warn her that her stuck-up attitude affects the people around her.

“They’re very different – they’re all so funny,” said Husk of the ghosts. “Some of the ghosts come in pairs. We have three ghosts that are ex-cheerleaders like her.”

“In the very end, when Meredith gets her epiphany, she finally comes up to everyone – especially Melissa – and apologizes because she wants to make it right and really help her get out of her situation,” said Tamburri.

The play was selected by drama teacher Colin Plant for its familiarity, and a certain quality that most plays don’t have.

“This version of A Christmas Carol appealed to me because it was metatheatrical – it has a play within a play, so that makes it fun for me as a theatre director,” he said.

Additionally, he said the high school setting adds to the believability of the performers and is likely more interesting for Claremont students than a traditional retelling of Dickens’ original play.

“It took a story that everyone has heard many times and set it in an environment that students could relate to. The opportunity to connect with the characters they’re playing is much higher. I don’t think it has to always be set in the 1800s with Victorian England and Scrooge as this white, middle-aged banker.”

This production has been two-and-a-half months in the making, with a 15-student crew from the stagecraft class working with the drama students – from Grade 9 to 12 – to put together the outstanding show.

“The students, by the time this is done, will probably have put in about 125 hours,” said Plant.

Claremont is using the performance as a fundraiser for the Mustard Seed food bank. Tickets are $10, available at the door, but attendees who bring a non-perishable food item can receive a dollar off the price of admission, with a maximum discount of $5.

“It’s a little way that the students spread the Christmas cheer and the spirit of giving back outside of what’s happening onstage,” said Plant.

The play runs nightly at 7:30 p.m. from Dec. 2 to 5 and 9 to 12, and while it’s set at a high school, the cast assures it’s a great show for all ages.

“Families should come and see it,” said Husk. “It’s funny to kids and adults – it’s just a good show.”