"Scrooge keeps getting younger as I get older," says Jeffrey Sanzel, who marks his 1,000th performance Saturday night as Charles Dickens' humbug miser in "A Christmas Carol."
Sanzel, the 45-year-old artistic director of Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, played his first Ebenezer in three performances of a 1988 faculty-student production at JFK High School in Westchester County. He was 22.
After directing "Carol" in his first year at Theatre Three in 1989, he resumed playing Scrooge the following season. At 24, Sanzel required so much makeup for the Medicare-eligible role that he took 45 minutes to get in character. "I even had eye pouches," he recalls. "Now that my hair is gray, it takes me 10 minutes."
Sanzel has no thoughts of retiring Scrooge. First, "A Christmas Carol" is his theater's cash cow. With up to nine performances a week, "Carol" often fills the house on weekday mornings with busloads of schoolchildren (that's when we caught up with Sanzel). It's also a centerpiece of -- and an inspiration for -- the village's annual Dickens Festival.
But, perhaps even more important to the play's longevity at Theatre Three is The Obsession.
ALL THINGS 'CAROL' "These days, it may involve vampires and werewolves," Sanzel says, "but if it has anything 'Carol' about it, I will read it, see it, own it." Figurines and comic books make it into his personal collection. Among his most prized possessions is an edition of "A Christmas Carol" signed by the author's great-grandson Cecil Dickens. No doubt, Sanzel will receive more memorabilia at tomorrow night's gala after-party.
"I got swept away after the first couple of years," Sanzel recalls, "and the line when I crossed over to obsession is so far past I can't see it anymore."
ROLE OF A LIFETIME Aside from playing Scrooge, Sanzel, for all but one year -- 2002 -- has written his own adaptation of "Carol" and directed himself and an ever-evolving cast. (Even in the year of his hiatus from Theatre Three, Sanzel played Scrooge for Interborough Rep Theater in Queens.)
"It's the most amazing story and the greatest character," Sanzel says. "You get to play the complete range -- before, during and after his transformation."
Although Sanzel figures he has a few more years playing young-adult Scrooge in the Ghost of Christmas Past scene, he'll need to go to a younger actor sooner or later. "Trouble is," he adds with a smile, "it's hard to find an actor as short as I am."
"This is one of the few roles you never grow out of," he says. "I could do this another 40 years. And I plan to."
WHAT "A Christmas Carol," adapted, directed by and starring Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge
WHEN | WHERE Friday and next Thursday nights at 8, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 27 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson
INFO $14-$28; theatrethree.com, 631-928-9100
PLUS: Another 'Carol'
WHAT There are still a few tickets for Jeffrey Sanzel's milestone performance at Theatre Three. But another "Carol" opens and closes this weekend. Minstrel Players, with co-founder Ray Palen as Ebenezer Scrooge, presents the Dickens classic in an ecclesiastical setting for three performances only.
INFO $15, $12 children; minstrelplayers.org, 631-732-2926