Some of us forget that Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is first and foremost a ghost story.
It follows Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation from curmudgeon to kindly after three spirits haunt him on Christmas Eve. The ghosts scare him into changing his mean and selfish ways and, through lessons of kindness and generosity, save his soul.
Even Mukilteo’s Keagan Estes — who reprises his role as Tiny Tim in A Contemporary Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” this year — has a secondary part as a spooky demon-child in the show.
I returned to Seattle last week to watch Gregory A. Fall’s adaptation that has become a four-decades-long tradition for the theater company. Perhaps it also is my new Christmas tradition. Ghost or Christmas story, it’s a classic worth repeat viewings.
“I was really excited,” Keagan said of again getting the part for the youngest son of Bob Cratchit. “I really wanted to be Tiny Tim again.”
For his second time as Tiny Tim, the 9-year-old is joined by his sister Kalia Estes, 12, who plays his on-stage sister Elizabeth, the youngest Cratchit girl.
I’ve also seen Keagan and Kalia together in Edge Performing Arts’ “Annie Jr.,” where Keagan played Oliver Warbucks’ butler and Kalia played an orphan, and Seattle Musical Theatre’s “South Pacific,” where they played the half-Polynesian children of one of the main characters, Emile de Becque.
“It’s fun because last year he talked about how fun it was, and how he wished that we (his sisters) were in it with him, so it was nice to be like, ‘Oh, I get it — it is really fun,’” Kalia said, adding that their sister Kiana, 13, decided not to audition for the show.
Director Emily Penick, who is staging ACT’s “A Christmas Carol” for the first time, said Keagan and Kalia landed their roles because they share the Christmas spirit of the Cratchit children.
“I had a real embarrassment of riches this year,” said Penick, who choreographed last year’s show. “An incredibly talented pool of young actors came in to audition, but Keagan brings a certain joy and effervescence with him. You really need that personality and life force to fill up the stage, whether you’re a young actor or a veteran actor.
“I also loved Kalia’s demeanor as a person; she has an energy and a kindness about her,” she added. “Of course, she’s a very talented young actress as well.”
The brother and sister also play the two wild and ragged children — the embodiment of Ignorance and Want — who crawl out from behind the Ghost of Christmas Present’s robes.
“It’s a scary moment where the spirit of Christmas present tries to teach Scrooge about the dangers of ignorance and want,” Penick said. “Keagan and Kalia have to physically transform from sweet children to demons for that scene. They have to be completely unrecognizable from their other parts.”
The Estes kids are so creepy in this scene that they easily provoke chills.
Other notable performances this year include Timothy McCuen Piggee’s cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge, Bradford Farwell’s ghostly Jacob Marley, Sunam Ellis’ kind and loving Mrs. Cratchit, and Trick Danneker’s genial Fred, Scrooge’s nephew. (Piggee alternates the role of Scrooge with Peter Crook.)
“A Christmas Carol” is one of Keagan and Kalia’s favorite stories: They have seen the 2009 movie several times, are now listening to the audiobook, and just saw “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” the new Charles Dickens biopic that tells how his novel came to be.
“Even though Scrooge was really mean in the beginning, people still forgave him in the end,” said Keagan, a fourth-grader at Northshore Christian Academy.
“It’s a good lesson,” said Kalia, a Northshore seventh-grader. “That you can change no matter who you are.”
In addition to the story’s teachings, they both have the Cockney accent down. (Kalia also sported the English dialect when she played the title role of “Oliver!” at Village Theater’s Kidstage in Everett. The kids musical is adapted from another Dickens tale, “Oliver Twist.”)
“We practice our accents at home,” Keagan said, “like when we play games or when we’re getting ready.”
“It’s hard to get it out of your body sometimes,” Kalia said with a laugh. “Sometimes I’ll speak in it without knowing.”
“A Christmas Carol”
A Contemporary Theater presents the Charles Dickens story through Dec. 28 at the Allen Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle.
For tickets, which start at $70, go to www.acttheatre.org or call 206-292-7676. Tickets are at a discount for all performances after Christmas. Not for children under 5. Show is 90 minutes with no intermission.