Averill family to stage Christmas show and ‘big party’ with vaudeville roots

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The moment they’ve all been waiting for soon will arrive. Finally, Ric and Jeanne Averill will perform on stage at the same time with their children, Will and Trish. The big event will take place on the mainstage at Lawrence Arts Center à la “Drunken Christmas Carol.”

Married 51 years, Ric and Jeanne have appeared together in countless stage productions and amassed long careers in professional and educational theater. Their children came along in the 1970s and ‘80s and followed in their parents’ footsteps. During productions, up to three Averills might take the stage together for Seem-to-Be Players, The Victor Continental Show, Summer Youth Theatre, Apple Valley Farm Theatre, and more.

“But there’s never been a show where there was a convergence,” Ric said, referring to the Averill Four. “The whole thing kind of blew up into this idea of, we’ll have this big party.”

So here’s what’s planned for the two-night run Dec. 16 and 17: A raucous call-and-response, get-up-on-stage, adults-only, vaudeville-style spin on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

And, yes, there’ll be booze — a cash bar. But teetotalers won’t be alone. Ric hasn’t had a drink since 1983. He’ll play sober Uncle Morty.

“I’m literally the designated director,” Ric quips.

Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times The Averill Four join together on stage for the first time in “Drunken Christmas Carol” at the Lawrence Arts Center on Dec. 16 and 17. Taking a pause during a rehearsal are, from left, Jeanne Averill, Will Averill, Trish Averill Neuteboom and Ric Averill.

Jeanne’s very familiar with “A Christmas Carol.” She appeared in the show multiple years at Kansas City Repertory Theatre as Mrs. Crachit and knows the script backwards and forwards. In this twist, she’ll play miser Ebenezer Scrooge. While this production runs shorter than the traditional play’s two-hour time commitment, audience participation will determine the runtime in part.

Just like the old days, the night “won’t be without interruptions” from their children, Ric says. Now in their 40s, Will Averill takes on the role of Tiny Tim, and Trish Averill Neuteboom stars as the Angel of Death.

Supplying the show’s accompaniment and incidental music on the gleaming Steinway and Sons grand piano is honorary Averill, Patricia Ahern (choir director). She’ll throw in some jazz and Christmas carols during the pre-show music, too.

Thirty years ago, she saw an ad to hire a piano player for vaudeville.

Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times Patricia Ahern (choir director) plays the piano during “Drunken Christmas Carol.”

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Ahern says, laughing. “It was just like baptism by fire — with no water at all.”

VIP table seating will give premium ticket holders an opportunity to nominate audience members for roles such as Bob Cratchit, Teenie Tiny Timmie and Fezziwig.

“Buy a table, put forward your best candidate for Marley’s Ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Present, etc.,” the LAC website says. “Cue cards are provided if necessary at no additional charge.”

Ric and Jeanne met in 1970 at the  Vassar Playhouse on Lake Pomona while dating other people and playing the lead roles in the “The Fantasticks.” Today, they’re the grandparents of four little Lawrence townies, ranging in age from 7 to 13.

“We were a showmance,” Ric says.

More than a half-century later, they’re still collaborating under the bright lights. With the support of Elizabeth Sullivan, LAC director of performing arts, the Averills began developing the project and soon recognized parallels forming with their Apple Valley shows from the 1990s. Those who attended the participatory melodramas near Perry might even go back in time a bit during “Drunken Christmas Carol.”

“Anybody that knew us from those days — and there are quite a few — that will recognize the vaudeville song is gonna go, ‘I know where that came from,’” Ric says. “So it’s kind of a brand new thing in some ways, but it’s also just walking back on a style of theater that we absolutely love.”

Crowds also can expect a rousing rendition of “What Child is This” and an audience survey polling how the crowd celebrates the holidays.

The Averills’ Christmas wish includes very fun audiences to serve as the stars alongside their family. They request crowds wear their “worst” Christmas sweaters and sport the gaudiest, most flamboyant and unforgivingly sparkly holiday flare and garb.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16 and Saturday, Dec. 17 for the parody with two titles, “Drunken Christmas Carol, or The Time We Went to Uncle Morty’s but None of His ‘Professional’ Actors Showed Up and So We Just Did the Show Ourselves, After a Few Drinks.” It takes the mainstage at Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

General admission is $20 a person with VIP table seating starting at $30. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the LAC website at lawrenceartscenter.org or at this link.

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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