It’s a festive, chilling and popular tale that has been told every year since it was written by Charles Dickens in 1843 — the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. And for the second year in a row, “A Christmas Carol” is being presented at Greenport’s First and South Bar & Restaurant as a holiday experience, featuring dinner and one-man show starring professional performer Scott H. Severance.
Severance, who narrates the story and exclaims the lines of the various characters in the play using a range of different voices, taps into his six-years of experience playing Scrooge on a national tour of the production. He also uses props throughout the evening to enhance the story.
The challenge of the production, he said, is keeping the well-known tale fresh while also not assuming that everyone in the audience knows the famous story of Scrooge and his ghostly visitors. This year’s production marks the second time Severance has starred in this particular one-man show in Greenport.
“It’s daunting,” Severance said in a recent interview. “I know this story inside and out and if I ever completely lose my place, I can go find it and get myself back on track. It’s just the mental gymnastics one has to do to go from this character to that character. It’s fascinating and exhausting.”
Produced by husband and wife theater professionals Vanessa Leuck and Ethan Popp through their company Broadway on the North Fork, this Greenport production debuted in December 2020. At the time, COVID-19 was rampant, vaccines were not yet available, and indoor restaurant dining was not happening — much less theater.
But the couple, who relocated from New York City to their North Fork home to ride out the pandemic, decided that no amount of “bah humbug” could keep audiences from enjoying the immersive dinner theater experience they envisioned for the classic tale. By working closely with First and Main’s owner Sarah Phillips, they utilized the restaurant’s wrap around porch as the stage, transforming the outdoor space into an atmospheric setting for the story of Scrooge.
“It went swimmingly,” said Phillips of the 2020 production. “We ended up doing extra nights, as we sold out 15 shows last year. It was pure joy during one of the darkest points we’ve felt in our lifetime.”
The popularity of the show prompted Leuck, a costume designer, and Popp, a Broadway and film music producer and orchestrator, along with Phillips, to bring the production back for another round of Christmas cheer.
The experience provides a way for East End audiences to see a professional production on the North Fork instead of heading out of town and shuffling into a busy theater, all the while, enjoying a three-course meal and the many cocktails and wines that are available on First and Main’s menu.
“There isn’t this type of experience here, so why not have it and create a tradition?” Leuck said.
The performance takes place inside a festively decorated tent attached to the bar and restaurant at First and Main, surrounded by the Greenpoint community which is known for its Christmas lights, merry-go-round and ice skating rink.
Leuck and Popp, who also live in Queens and are both award winners in their industry, fell in love with Greenport when they first visited about nine years ago, buying property there years later. Their home and the surrounding community became a safe haven at a time when New Yorkers living in the city had no choice but to stay in their apartments during the height of the pandemic.
But with New York theater dark until the spring of this year, Popp and Leuck began to grow frustrated with their inability to pursue their passions of putting on a good show.
“There were no signs as to when Broadway or theater or really entertainment of any sort was coming back,” Popp said in a recent interview. “And by November of 2020, we felt we had to figure out a way to do something that is safe and distanced and where people feel comfortable, but also find a way to entertain people again.”
When Popp and Leuck approached their friend Phillips at First and South, she was happy to provide her space for this immersive, yet safe theatrical experience. It was not the first time that the restaurant has hosted something like this for the community, as it’s known for its themed events.
It also helped that Popp and Leuck had the perfect person, their friend Severance, to play the role as the story-teller.
“We knew if anyone was intimately familiar with the story, it would be Scott,” said Leuck.
Within 48 hours of their initial phone call with Severance, Popp and Leuck were having script meetings with him.
“Because of the rules, it was very difficult to plan something,” Phillips said of last year’s
production. “You were allowed to have music secondary to dining, so what we did was storytelling secondary to dining. We ensured the actor was in seclusion, so he stayed at the Greenporter Hotel. He went to and from here and there, those were the only options. And our
entire staff was minimized. We were masked, we were socially distanced and tested.”
For this year’s production, the restaurant did eliminate the plexiglass between tables that was used last year to provide social distancing and also added two or three seats, but other than that, Phillips said, the show was such a success that not much altering was done.
“The couple that just walked through came last year,” Phillips said shortly before the show began on opening night. “Now they’re coming again because they had such a special experience and they had to do it again.
“It’s becoming a tradition for people.”
Broadway on the North Fork’s production of “A Christmas Carol” will be performed at First and South Bar & Restaurant, 100 South Street, Greenport, through December 23. The evening runs three hours and begins at 5:30 p.m. with cocktails followed by dinner and the show. Tickets are $145 which includes the performance and a three-course dinner. To reserve visit firstandsouth.com.