like the dickens: (l-r) Rebecca Rogers rehearses with
Kerr for A Christmas Carol.
and arranger Jay Kerr, whose career has taken him from the
Captain Kangaroo TV show to the USO, from New York
City’s Continental Baths (where he accompanied Bette Midler)
to Broadway—was winding down his work as a vocal coach when
he bought the Fort Salem Theater in 2006. Formerly a church,
then a fort, then a church again, the two-and-a-half-century-old
building had been used as a summer stock theater since the
1970s. “It’s a seductive building,” he says. “I did fall in
love with it.” This week Kerr reopens the restored mainstage
with a new musical version of A Christmas Carol, adapted
by Kerr and Jeremy Blachman, author of the blog, novel and
soon to be television series, Anonymous Lawyer.
Kerr sees the Fort Salem Theater as a lab of sorts, a “free
atmosphere to create acts.” In the smaller cabaret space,
Kerr hosted performers from New York City and the Capital
Region throughout the summer and fall. They traveled north
not to take in the scenery but to craft a show with Kerr—a
writer, arranger and accompanist all rolled into one—and then
to perform it without having to worry about who was in the
audience. “It’s all about giving artists the opportunity to
create a show and have a place to do it.” Next year Kerr will
use this as his model for a new school at Fort Salem with
classes in acting, singing and dancing.
Kerr met Blachman while leading a writers’ workshop for the
Princeton University Triangle Club, the college’s musical-comedy
troupe, whose former cast members include Jimmy Stewart, F.
Scott Fitzgerald, and Brooke Shields. Blachman, Kerr says,
was something of a “Woody Allen type,” easily overlooked,
but Kerr heard something in his songs and before long had
him up on stage. Out of college, Blachman still didn’t fit
the mold and drifted a bit before landing at Harvard Law School
where he wrote a humor column for the school newspaper. Later
he started the blog Anonymous Lawyer, the fictitious
accounts of a partner at a well-heeled law firm who used his
airtime to zing his coworkers and ruminate over the misdeeds
of his day. A well-timed slip to a New York Times reporter
revealed Blachman as the author and landed him a book deal.
The novel, told as a blog, is now being turned into a pilot
for a TV series.
Set both in upstate New York in the present and in Dickens’
1850 London, Kerr and Blachman’s version of the haunting Christmas
tale tackles contemporary notions of greed and avarice with
a Cratchit family that’s a bit more Scrooge-like than the
original. In addition to Kerr and Blachman, the show features
the choreography of Susi Trombley, who led the dance company
Charlie’s Works in London. The Cratchits are played by the
Gee-LaMothe family: New Age composer-pianist Geoffrey Gee,
dancer-choreographer Kimerer LaMothe and their four children.
“They can sing and they can act, and they all get to rehearsal
at the same time,” Kerr says. Rounding out the cast are Kerri
Lynn Jennings as Belle, Scrooge’s fiancée, and Gordon Hazzard
Christmas Carol will be presented Dec. 14-16 and Dec. 21-23
at the Fort Salem Theater (11 E. Broadway, Fort Salem). Performance
times are 7:30 PM Fridays and Saturdays; 2 PM Saturdays and
Sundays. For reservations and ticket information, call 854-9200.