Scrooge Takes a Final Bow
Ira David Wood III prepares to hang up his top hat after 50 remarkable years
BY MELISSA WISTEHUFF. PHOTOS BY BRIAN MULLINS.
Few landmarks, fixtures and traditions have withstood the countless changes Raleigh has experienced in recent decades. Natives wax nostalgic when asked about their fond recollections of yesteryear, with stories about Jesse Broyles—also known as the Peanut Man—who sold peanuts alongside his pigeon companions. They recall memories of pay phones lining Fayetteville Street and WRAL’s “Time for Uncle Paul” TV show. Popular restaurants and businesses have closed, and the skyline has drastically changed. But one local icon has remained a beloved piece of our city’s ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.
Ira David Wood III—David, as he likes to be called—has been delighting Raleigh audiences as the lovable curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge in Theatre in the Park’s “A Christmas Carol” since 1974. This cherished holiday tradition has endured the evolution of downtown Raleigh’s landscape over the last half century, and soon we will bid farewell to the man who arguably and single-handedly revitalized North Carolina theater over the last five decades.
Wood’s musical comedy adaption of the Charles Dickens classic has become as synonymous with holiday traditions as the lighting of the Capitol Christmas tree. Triangle natives and newcomers alike flock each year to see performances at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and Durham Performing Arts Center (for which “A Christmas Carol” was the first theatrical show to debut in 2008) in what is lauded as one of the most successful shows in North Carolina theater history.
Wood’s oldest son, Ira David Wood IV—who goes by Ira—took over for his dad in 2010 when David had heart surgery and, in recent years, has been donning Scrooge’s prosthetic nose and carrying his signature teddy bear every other night as his proud father looks on. “I love being able to sit in the audience and see the show from the other side of the curtain,” David says.
Eleven-year-old Thomas, Wood’s youngest son, will return for the fifth year as the baker’s son. Daughter Evan Rachel Wood—of “Westworld” and “Frozen II” fame—played the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past for the production in past years, making “A Christmas Carol” a true family affair. With more than two million tickets sold during David’s tenure as Scrooge, it’s fair to say “A Christmas Carol” has been a family affair for Triangle families as well.
Although his character brings the “bah humbug,” David adds a twinkle in his eye—his love of the story evident in each performance. “For me, Scrooge is like seeing an old friend each year,” he says, wistfully. “It’s been a good ride.”
We sat down with David and his sons to reminisce about their time together on stage and off, chat about what is to come, and find out how Ira and Thomas feel about carrying on their father’s legacy.
Can you describe how it feels to know that your final curtain call as Scrooge is drawing nearer?
David: I don’t think it has set in yet. We’re now in the throes of putting together the show, so I haven’t had time to wallow in my emotions. I have a feeling that it won’t hit me until the final curtain call. How much can one prepare for such a huge transition? It’s also David Moore’s last year [as Bob Cratchit] after 25 years, and he’s been a wreck.
How does it feel to be taking over your dad’s iconic role?
Ira: I’ve literally grown up with this play, and many of the cast members have been around so long that they are family to us. It’s bittersweet because this has been a dream for so long, and a goal that I’ve worked toward for most of my life. And now that the time has come, it doesn’t feel real.
David: It helps that he’s taken over half the performances for the last few years, so we’ve been easing ourselves, as well as the audiences, into the transition.
Ira: Stepping into the role that first year was intimidating, because I didn’t want to let down the audiences. I started having more fun about halfway through the season, but I don’t take the responsibility lightly.
When did you know Ira was the right person to take over as Scrooge?
David: Theater has always been Ira and Evan’s playhouse. They grew up on or behind the stage. I can’t think of a better place or group of people to grow up with. Every time a baby is born to someone in the “A Christmas Carol” family, I bring their baby on stage with me to sing the Christmas lullaby. Ira made his first appearance in the play when he was just weeks old. So as far as I’m concerned, Ira has been the only choice to take over the role.
Ira: It’s always been a discussion with Dad. It’s such a humbling experience to have this opportunity. “A Christmas Carol” is an amazing tradition, and it’s an honor to be invited to spend Christmas with local audiences. I’ve lived and worked in Hollywood, and I can easily say that I’ve never experienced anything as special and magical as “A Christmas Carol.”
You’re both deeply involved in the day-to-day work at Theatre in the Park. What is it like working so closely with family?
David: I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ira: I don’t know anything different! I’ve lived my life surrounded by theater, and so many people at Theatre in the Park and in “A Christmas Carol” feel like family. David Henderson, who has played Jacob Marley in “A Christmas Carol” since 1994, is like an uncle to me. It’s a unique experience to work with real family and chosen family, and it’s special. Dad is a wonderful teacher and mentor, especially with developing and learning things that are fundamental but aren’t necessarily things that can be taught, like how to listen to an audience.
What is your favorite moment of the show?
David: The Christmas lullaby at the end of the show is so special to me. That’s when I take a moment to look out into the audience and see how people have taken the emotional ride with Scrooge.
Ira: It’s hard to pick a favorite moment, but the rapport I have with some of the castmates who have been around for so long is really special to me. It’s like being on stage with playmates that I get to have fun with. Each year, I look back and have a new favorite moment.
Thomas: I like the part when I come in and say “that’s not how the song goes” and start flossing behind Scrooge’s back.
You work hard to keep each season of “A Christmas Carol” fresh by incorporating topical jokes. What current events have given you ideas for this year’s show?
David: This show isn’t a matter of “adding water and stir,” in the sense that we work hard to keep it relevant each year—particularly for those who have been coming for decades. I start taking notes for the next year as soon as the curtain closes for the season, and we tweak what we find funny and most newsworthy when rehearsals start each fall.
Ira: 2023 is all about Barbie-mania! There’s also plenty of political fodder. I like being spontaneous because it helps keep the show fresh and fun night after night, but you have to know what is too much in the realm of play, because we don’t want to take the train off the tracks.
David: There are times that we find something funny, but we have to realize that there’s a fine line between funny and offensive. It can be a tricky balance, especially with politics. There’s always someone who will find something offensive, but we do try to be funny and pertinent without ticking people off, and certainly without hurting feelings. I like to warn audience members to untighten their corsets before they come to the show (laughs). Everyone is so uptight these days, and this show is best experienced with a light heart.
Thomas, what do your friends think of you being a part of such a big show?
Thomas: I guess they think it’s cool. Some have come to watch me, which is nice.
When you’re not on stage, where is your favorite place to spend time?
David: Ashley (David’s wife), Thomas and I love to spend time at the Outer Banks. I love being a dad again. I can look at it with a unique appreciation, having the opportunity to experience it all over again. When my older children were young, I was working so hard to build the theater, and now I can savor parenthood more. Learning how to be a better, more present dad is a dream come true.
Ira: Camping in Uwharrie National Forest is my favorite getaway. I set up a tent, read a book by the campfire and enjoy being in nature.
Thomas: I like to hang out with my friends and cousins. My parents and I went on a trip to New York City this summer. I’m a big “Back to the Future” fan, and we went to see the new Broadway play. It was awesome! The DeLorean flies out and hovers over the audience. It was so cool.
Thomas, do you dream of taking over the role of Scrooge one day?
Where can we find you next December, David?
David: I’ll be watching “A Christmas Carol” as a proud dad. Plus, I’ll be sticking around as the show’s director. They can’t get rid of me that easily!
The Midtown, 5 West and Triangle Family staff would like to acknowledge the following people at
Theatre in the Park for helping us pull off our amazing cover photo shoot.
Managing Director Brent Simpson
Costume Designer LeGrande Smith
Technical Director Sage Twiss
Patron Services Manager Andrea Twiss.