Saving Scrooge's soul

Durham high school students take Dickens's classic to the streets of Harlem
Dec. 12, 2012 @ 12:27 AM

Ricky Boynton pistons his hands and feet as he makes his way across the stage in white preacher's robes, bounces onto the riser behind the pulpit and dances around in time to the music of the Renaissance Band.

He jumps down to stand behind the pulpit, resting his hands on it, and then sags as he stares out at the audience and says: "Whew."

The reverend is just one of several roles played by Boynton, a 16-year-old junior at the Southern School of Energy and Sustainability, in a rehearsal of "They Sing Christmas Up in Harlem" on Wednesday.

He says he's been performing since he was 4 and got his start acting in plays at Githens Middle School when he was in sixth grade.

"I'm not saying I'm bipolar or anything," Boynton explains. "I'm just saying I can change personalities real quickly. I love the adrenaline pumping up on stage. It's my time to shine. You're going to notice me."

The musical, written by Eric LeRoy Wilson but adapted and directed by Southern's drama teacher, Vera Bennett-Allen, is a street-smart spin on the classic "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.

In this version of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge -- played by Nate Johnson -- is a heartless New York gangster who frequents Lenox and 135th Street in Harlem. He's mean to the disabled, unwilling to help the homeless, selfish about giving cash to charities and stingy about paying people who work for him.

As expected: Scrooge is visited by several ghosts through a series of musical numbers until he learns to change his ways.

"It tells a story," Boynton says. "Some people may not believe in Christmas, but the message here is that you need to make sure before it's too late that you say your sorries and make your apologies."

Asia Perkins, a 15-year-old sophomore, also took on a couple of roles for the show.

"When I'm on stage, I can just let loose," she says. "I can actually act weird and it's great. No matter what people say, stay true, live out that dream and follow it."

The production, managed and performed by the high school's theater students, can be seen on Thursday and Friday. Both shows start at 6:30 p.m.

"It truly is a show by the kids, for the kids and the community," says Bennett-Allen.

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