PORT TOWNSEND — Here in this “City of Dreams,” as the town’s been known, you have your loggers, your land speculators, your hoteliers, your uptown types and, yes, your sin at sea level.
Henrietta Maynard stands at the center of it all. She’s a shrewd one who means business — “You don’t give it away, no matter what it is,” she tells the “fancy ladies” working at her hotel. And Miz Maynard is on her own, having lost partner Jacob Marley on a Christmas Eve past.
Sound familiar? A different take on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” steals back onto the stage at Key City Public Theatre this week, with Miz Maynard, a real-life Victorian-era entrepreneur in Jefferson County, revamping the old Scrooge role.
This is “Spirit of the Yule,” the musical created by KCPT Artistic Director Denise Winter and local composer-bandleader Linda Dowdell, opening Thursday and running through Dec. 28. The Key City Playhouse, downtown at 419 Washington St., is the venue for the dance-enhanced show. It’s set in 1889 Port Townsend, when this was “the rowdiest port north of San Francisco.”
“Yule” takes the stage at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 2:30 p.m. Saturday; then it plays in repertory with Key City’s comedy “Mercy Falls” every weekend through the month.
Tickets are $24 to $29 at keycity publictheatre.org and 360-385-5278 — except the two pay-what-you-wish performances. For those, at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 and at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 21, patrons can arrive 30 minutes before curtain time to claim their seats.
“Yule” premiered four years ago with Winter in the director’s chair; each year a different actor has portrayed Miz Maynard while the supporting cast has combined KCPT regulars with guest performers.
This year Brendan Chambers, the artistic associate at KCPT, is directing; he also portrays four characters including the Ghost of the Future.
Maggie Jo Bulkley choreographs the dance numbers and plays young Henrietta as well as Ruby, one of the fancy ladies working on Water Street. Seattle actors David Natale and Karen Skrinde portray Marley and Maynard, respectively.
“We’re taking a break [from producing ‘Yule’] after this year,” said Winter.
She said that the 2019 show has new scenic elements, more dance and a new ending to Act I. Pianist Dowdell and her trio — drummer Lou Babik and violinist Tim Blevins — play her original music live from the edge of the stage, from “It’s Wild Out Here” and “I Mean Business” to “The Trade Chose Me,” “Love Sailed into View” and “What Shall I See in My Dreams?” The story line is born of research gleaned from the Jefferson County Historical Society and Forks Timber Museum and local scholars including Bob Francis and David H. Schroeder.
Amidst the music, dancing and rumrunning, “Yule” is still about memories, dreams and transformation — just like Dickens’ “Carol.”
Yet it’s a story about the life of a local woman, reinvented by two local women. Another new touch: the Tiny Tim character becomes Maddie Mae, played by Zoe Cook, a 14-year-old freshman at Port Townsend High School. Consuelo Aduviso Brennan and Tomoki Sage, who are also appearing in “Mercy Falls,” are returning “Yule” cast members while local actors Becky Eastgard and Ciel Pope and New York City-based Ry Armstrong are newcomers.
Natale, who appears not only as Marley’s ghost but also as a live-wire land speculator, has been part of many KCPT shows, but never “Yule” until now. He has called himself “kind of a humbug guy.”
But then Dowdell’s music enchanted him, as did the changed-up story line.
“I love ‘A Christmas Carol.’ It’s a great ghost story … [about] the spirit of giving, and turning your back on greed,” he said.
And at this point in history, in this strangely gilded age, Natale said, he believes in the spirit of the yule.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.