11 AM, November 6, 1997 -- Outside New York's Madison Square Garden it was business as usual, with brusque corporate types hailing cabs and funky high school kids milling around (why weren't they in school?).
But inside a large rehearsal room in The Theatre at Madison Square Garden, 50 members of the cast of The Christmas Carol were strutting their stuff for members of the press.
This is the fourth consecutive outing at Madison Square Garden for the Alan Menken-Lynn Ahrens musicalization of the Dickens classic, but the first time that two familiar faces from TV, film, and the stage -- Hal Linden and Roddy McDowall -- will be alternating in the role of Scrooge (divvying up the "15 a week" performances).
Director Mike Ockrent acted as an informal narrator for the five production numbers ("Jolly, Rich and Fat," "Link By Link," "Abundance and Charity," "Dancing on Your Grave," and "God Bless Us, Everyone"), which were conducted by Paul Gemignani.
The actors were in partial costume, and Linden and McDowall (clad in street clothes beneath their period top hats and frock coats -- or bathrobes -- depending on the particular scene) each had their turn as Scrooge. The numbers previewed, in addition to spotlighting the two very different lead characters, also showcased Ken Page as the Ghost of Christmas Present; Paul Kandel as the Ghost of Jacob Marley; American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Christine Dunham as the Ghost of Christmas Future (whose dancing showed off Susan Stroman's choreography to especially good effect) -- and the two boys alternating as Tiny Tim, Christopher Cardell and Patrick Duffey.
In a joint interview after the 30-minute preview, Linden and McDowall -- dressed nearly identically in white jeans and light blue work shirts -- spoke of the excitement of being in a show that's becoming a New York City institution.
They also said they had both been influenced by Alastair Sim's Scrooge in the 1951 film ("The closeup camera can do a lot for you," quipped Linden) -- and then the conversation turned to the joys of dual casting.
"At rehearsals I watch Roddy and Roddy watches me -- and we steal from each other!" said Linden.
"How often do you get to work with someone who you're not really working with?" added McDowall.
Within the four walls of the rehearsal room, it appeared to be all harmony and mistletoe, a fact confirmed by Ray Friedeck, who is playing Mr. Fezziwig for the second year in a row.
"On the first day of rehearsals,Mike [Ockrent] said to me, 'It's like you're coming home to an old friend -- Mr. Fezziwig has grown a year older and stronger.' "
"What a great way to spend the holidays," said Friedeck.
The revival of Christmas Carol runs Nov. 18 to Jan. 4, 1998.
Tickets are $25-$65. For information: (212) 465-MSG1. As a special promotion for evening performances from Nov. 19-26, a child will get a free ticket for each adult ticket purchased.
-- By Rebecca Paller