Jeffrey's childhood wish was a gift from Santa.

Sadly, Santa never showed up in the orphanage where he'd been placed after abandonment by his mother. In fact, no one ever gave Jeffrey a gift, so he saw no reason to give to anyone else when he grew up to become a successful businessman.

And Jeffrey's last name is Scrooge, so it's no wonder he hates Christmas.

But UpStage Theatre plans to remedy Jeffrey's disposition when it stages local actress-comedian-playwright Carissa Cropper's "The Night Before Christmas" on Sunday, Dec. 16.

The show is UpStage's annual Christmas production featuring an all-children cast. Artistic director Ava Brewster-Turner adapted Cropper's play. Hira Maja Dupas directs this cast of 17, ranging between ages 5 and 15.  

The story plays out in the spirit of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." But there are a few changes.

"Jeffrey Scrooge isn't visited by three ghosts but three angels," Dupas says. "And he has other visitors in the night, including Santa's reindeer."

Still, Jeffrey must take some of Ebenezer Scrooge's introspective journeys into the past, present and future if he is to change his perspective.

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"I'm not like Jeffrey, but this play does make you think about the things that are important," says Kyler Henderson, who plays Jeffrey. "When you get older, you kind of get out of the spirit of Christmas, because Santa isn't real. That hasn't happened to me, because I always have the Christmas spirit. Maybe this play will help those who don't." 

This is the first stage role for the 15-year-old Baton Rouge Magnet High School sophomore, and it has him thinking about future acting possibilities.

"My aunt is involved in theater, and she said I should audition," Henderson says. "When they said, 'You're Scrooge,' I never expected it. But it's been a good experience, and I'd like to do more."

Henderson, however, isn't the only Scrooge in this story. Mason Fontenot plays the younger version of Jeffrey in Christmas past.

The 13-year-old eighth grader is a student in the McKinley Middle Magnet School talented theater program. He studied the older version of Jeffrey before developing his character of the young boy placed in an orphanage.

"The older Jeffrey is angry, and when I look at the young boy, he's been in the orphanage since he was 6 years old and has never known Christmas," Fontenot says. "So, I look at how he is now to learn what leads him there."

But the one character who knows more about Scrooge's story than anyone else is the Narrator, played by 13-year-old Tyelor Sykes. The seventh grader also is a student in McKinley Middle's talented theater program.

"I keep the story moving, and there's a lot of foreshadowing in what I'm saying," he says. "I've also learned the part of the doctor in case that actor isn't able to show up. If I don't think about having to know two parts, I'm OK. I just go out there and do it."

As a director, Dupas is used to working with middle schoolers. She directed last year's production of McKinley Middle's musical, "The Addams Family."

She doesn't get to work much with smaller children, and she's learning a few lessons from them along the way.

"Their imaginations are so vivid," she says. "They're teaching me to communicate in a way that I can receive it from them. They don't know everything, but their imaginations are so strong, and I love how UpStage provides this opportunity for young African-American children to be on stage. It gives them a voice they never thought they had."      


'The Night Before Christmas'

UpStage Theatre's annual all-children Christmas production

WHEN: 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16.

WHERE: UpStage Theatre, 9401 Cortana Place, Cortana Mall entrance No. 1.

ADMISSION: $21, adults; $18, students.

TICKETS/INFORMATION: Call (225) 924-3774 or visit upstagetheatre.biz.   

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.