One of the greatest compliments Paul Pierce ever received as an actor was after a production of “A Tuna Christmas.”
A member of the audience told him that until the curtain call she did not realize there were only two people in the cast.
In the show, Pierce and Ron Anderson each portrayed 11 different people, some men, some women, each with a different look, a different voice, a different attitude.
“It is a challenging show to do and also a fun one,” Pierce said.
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The comedy, which opens Thursday night, was first done at the Springer Opera House in 2001 and has been performed annually since. Pierce figures about 65,000 people have seen it there.
For all that time, Pierce was one of the actors and except for two performances the other was Anderson, who died in 2016.
Now, “A Tuna Christmas: The Next Generation” features two different performers.
They are Jim Pharr and Ben Redding.
“Jim and Ben are two very talented, very funny young actors,” said Pierce, the Springer’s producing artistic director.
They are no strangers to audiences at the Springer.
Pharr, the director of the Springer’s No Shame Theater, has been seen in numerous shows. Recent roles include Sam Phillips in “Million Dollar Quartet,” Willy Wonka in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” Kenicke Murdoch in “Grease” and Cogsworth in “Beauty and the Beast.”
And Redding is every bit as versatile. A graduate of Elon University with a degree in musical theater. Redding was Prince Eric in “The Little Mermaid,” and George in “Of Mice and Men.” He has performed in theaters across the country including a stint as Riff in a national tour of “West Side Story.”
The two are familiar with the show, growing up with it, and working backstage.
“It is really a labor of love,” Redding said of doing the show.
Describing the comedy, Pharr called it a wonderful, satirical look at a small town Christmas.”
Redding called it “wacky.”
The story takes place in Tuna, Texas, and centers around a holiday display competition and disastrous production of “A Christmas Carol.”
Pharr said he feels a “big weight” on his shoulders and a responsibility to deliver the kind of show Springer people are used to seeing.
The authors of the show are Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard.
Howard is directing this Springer presentation.
The actors said working with the author is a blessing and a challenge but that he lets them put their own spin on a character.
Pierce said it is “weird” not being in the show but Howard has let him stop by some rehearsals and make suggestions.
There are a lot of lines for the actors and some costume changes have to be made in a matter of seconds.
When the show was on Broadway, The New York Times reviewer called it a “hoot.”
“It is a great Christmas tradition. There are people who come every year. Never miss it,” said Pierce. “People who have not seen it should give it a try.”
Pierce remarked there have been times times that he has thought of not doing the show but has had too many people say to him, “please don’t let this stop.”
If you go
What: “A Tuna Christmas: The Next Generation”
Where: The McClure Theater at the Springer Opera House on 10th Street in Columbus
When: Shows at 7:30 p.m. are Dec. 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23. A Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m. is Dec. 17.
Cost: Adult tickets are $37. Tickets for senior citizen, educators and public safety workers are $32. Tickets for students are $17.
Purchase: The Springer Opera House box office is open 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and two hours before a performance. Call 706-327-3688. Visit https://springeroperahouse.org.