Pittsburgh CLO Academy students take the stage in ‘A Musical Christmas Carol’

The CLO’s “A Musical Christmas Carol” at the Byham Theater downtown is now in its 27-th year.  It’s a tradition for many families and a field trip for 7,000 school kids each year. Scrooge is played for the first time by Broadway actor Richard Thomas, who you probably remember as John-Boy from “The Waltons”.

Every year, kids make up an important part of the cast.  This year, five kids who take clas.ss at CLO Academy are in the show.  These children have the vocal and acting talents to get in the show, but it takes dedication, sacrifice, and responsibility to be in it.  There are 24 shows over three weeks.

Eleven-year-old Chloe Griffin and 9-year-old Rachel Grant are in the show for the first time this year.  “This is actually my first audition I’d ever done,” Rachel says.

There are 24 shows over three weeks.   Rehearsals started just one week before the show opened, eight hours a day for seven days. “It’s insane,” says 12-year-old actor Joe Chufo, “because you don’t know the blocking, your lines, what costume you’re going to be wearing or how a quick change works, so it was hard.”

Joe and fellow sixth graders, Jack Engel and Daniel Frontz, are in the show for a second year.  Jack, who wears an orthopedic boot for a broken foot when he’s not on stage, remembers what it was like before opening night.  “The night before (the show),” Jack says, “I got so nervous because we got an email to make sure our lines are memorized, and I memorized my lines and it took me all night.”

At rehearsals and backstage, it’s clear the kids have fun with each other.  That’s one of Chloe’s favorite parts.  “I like meeting a bunch of new people, and I like missing school.”

The kids do miss a lot of school for rehearsals, plus seven weekday matinees for school kids.  They get a stipend, which may not seem like a lot for an adult but seems big to a kid.  There’s also what’s called a “child wrangler” whose job it is to keep track of the kids at rehearsals and shows and make sure they are safe and where they need to be.

The cast and crew become a family, much like the Cratchit family they play in the show, with a Secret Santa gift exchange, a dressing room decorating contest and fun just joking around.

Once on stage, it’s like Christmas magic.  This show comes to life and transforms children into professional actors.  “It’s nothing like what forms in your mind,” Daniel says, “and then it starts to materialize until finally, you get to this form where everything makes sense and everything’s fluid.”

The show runs through December 23.  Tickets for kids are half priced.