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Gay ‘Christmas Carol’ movie gives Dickens tale a new perspective

The Ghost Christmas Present is portrayed by Ronnie Kroell (left) takes David Pevsner’s Scrooge late-night voyage “Scrooge   Marley.”

The Ghost of Christmas Present is portrayed by Ronnie Kroell (left) takes David Pevsner’s Scrooge on a late-night voyage in “Scrooge & Marley.”

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Scrooge David Pevsner

Marley Tim Kazurinsky

Fezziwig Bruce Vilanch

Freda Rusy Schwimmer

Bill Christopher Allen

Sam I Am Films presents a film directed by Richard Knight Jr. and Peter Neville. Written by Ellen Stoneking and Timothy Imse, based on the story by Charles Dickens. Running time: 88 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opening Thursday at the Music Box.

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Updated: December 29, 2012 6:04AM

‘Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years,” author Charles Dickens wrote at the start of his 1843 holiday chestnut “A Christmas Carol.” “Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend and sole mourner.”

But Ebenezer Scrooge and his late associate Jacob “dead as a doornail” Marley presumably weren’t gay. Not as Dickens rendered them 169 years ago, and not as countless actors have played them in movies, TV and onstage in the decades since. Until now.

The locally made “Scrooge & Marley” was shot on a shoestring budget during 12 very long days this past May and preserves the structure and premise of Dickens’ original tale: a miserable miser comes to see the error of his ways after visits by three revelatory spirits.

Only in this version, the miser — Ben Scrooge (played by Skokie-born David Pevsner) — is gay. So is his ill-treated assistant Bob Cratchit, who raises five adopted children (including Tiny Tim) with his life partner Drew.

Along the same lines, Scrooge’s lesbian niece Freda (as opposed to nephew Fred in the Dickens original) and her partner Mary are expecting their first child. Fezziwig is embodied by former Chicago entertainment scribe and well-known T-shirt devotee/joke puncher-upper Bruce Vilanch — ’nuff said.

Narrated by actor Judith Light of “Who’s the Boss?” and “Law and Order: SVU” and co-starring Evanston’s own Tim Kazurinsky as Marley’s chain-rattling ghost, “Scrooge” has its national premiere Thursday at the Music Box Theatre. It plays there through Dec. 6 and will briefly screen in several other markets across the country.

“It started out more campy, in the vein of ‘Hey, let’s do something really fun and funky,’ ” says co-producer (one of many) and co-screenwriter Ellen Stoneking, an Annoyance Theatre veteran. She penned the script with the film’s co-director Richard Knight Jr. and, in the early going, their late friend Tim Imse. “But the more we got into it, the more I started thinking of friends of mine who are gay with children and I thought, ‘Well, wouldn’t they like to sit down to a lovely family movie with people like them?’ ”

Almost certainly. Some folks, however, seem put off by the very notion of a classic gone gay. When it was announced on the Huffington Post that Barbra Streisand’s out son Jason Gould would sing the film’s closing credits song, readers quickly registered their displeasure.

“You can take a story or a song and ‘make’ it gay, and I am sure the originators of said story or song are rolling over in their graves. Disgusting,” one wrote.

“UGH!” another exclaimed. “Hope it flops. Can’t we leave anything alone anymore? What a shame.”

Still another posted an oft-quoted bible passage from the Book of Leviticus: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.”

Mostly, though, the comments were upbeat.

When Knight pitched the premise of “Scrooge” during an informal writing workshop he’d started with Stoneking and Imse, his enthusiasm stemmed in no small part from the fact that “A Christmas Carol” is public domain. Basically, that means it can be reinterpreted any which way without paying someone a fat fee — or any fee at all. Which helps when you’ve got only $100,000 to spend.

Knight was also excited by the prospect of presenting a gay perspective in a traditional setting.

“As a gay person, I have wanted to see a movie that really embraces the LGBT point of view, that’s unapologetic about it, that presents my people like everybody else’s people,” Knight says with a big laugh. “We’re the same. We have the same traditions. We put up Christmas trees. We wrap presents. We are depressed sometimes at the holidays because of things that we have gone through. We’re joyful. We have lovers. We have husband and wives.”

Pevsner not only feels likewise, but he’s confident that “any straight person who comes into it going, ‘Uch, a gay “Christmas Carol,” that’s radicchio’ — if they see the movie, I have a feeling they’ll be awash in tears at the end.”

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