Monday, December 11, 2023

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Dickens adaptation brings audiences back to Theater at the Center’s main stage

Phil Potempa, Jeannie Rapstad, and Tony Panek perform cozy adaptation of A Christmas Carol

MUNSTER, Ind. (December 4, 2022) – As Jeannie Rapstad rushed across the stage at Theatre at the Center to put on a blue shawl and silver crown to transform once again into the Ghost of Christmas Past, she took a deep breath and shot a knowing glance to the audience, drawing widespread laughs.

Charles Dickens’ sprawling masterpiece A Christmas Story is currently being delivered to local audiences in an adapted form by only three performers — Rapstad, Phil Potempa, and Tony Panek — in a show that’s more storybook-by-the-fire than it is Broadway production.

Jeannie Rapstad onstage as the narrator, one of many roles the comedian plays in the adapted performance. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

As a cardigan-clad Potempa welcomed the audience before the the December 2 show, he told them not to expect something like 2019’s White Christmas, where dozens of costumed performers danced across the stage to a swelling score. Instead, he urged audiences to view the Dickens piece — which he adapted from the original himself — as simply a piece of “entertainment” to “put you into the Christmas spirit.”

With that goal in mind, Potempa, Rapstad, and Panek have succeeded, inviting audiences to a well-rehearsed, well-costumed, and well-lit staged reading of Potempa’s adaption, complete with sound effects supplied by Panek (who also plays the roles of the Ghost of Christmas Present and Tiny Tim). The performance is a “baby step” closer to normal for Theatre at the Center, said Potempa, as last year’s version of the adaption was simpler and performed in the ballroom by Potempa and his longtime editor Crista Zivanovic.

Comedian Jeannie Rapstad (left), author and columnist Phil Potempa (right), and WJOB radio personality Tony Panek onstage as the Cratchit family. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Using the main stage still painted and set up for Theatre at the Center’s Almost Heaven: John Denver’s America — a show shuttered in March 2020 due to what was known at the time as simply “coronavirus” — Potempa plays the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley, and Bob Cratchit, while Rapstad plays narrator, ghost, Belle, Martha Cratchit, and other roles.

Columnist and author Phil Potempa plays the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in the 70-minute version of A Christmas Carol, which he adapted himself. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)
Potempa’s Scrooge contends with Rapstad’s Ghost of Christmas Past. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Overall, the 70-minute performance is a chance for local families to hear a classic Christmas tale told in a new, simple, and cozy fashion. Beyond its story, the performance is a success because it is bringing eager audiences back to Theater at the Center to see a show on the main stage, a spectacle that hasn’t happened for over 32 months — apart from a short September run of Potempa’s Once Upon a Farm: A Story, a Family, a Tradition.


The show runs through December 11 with the following schedule:

  • Wednesday, December 7, 2 p.m. with option of adding noon meal
  • Thursday, December 8, 2 p.m. with option of adding noon meal
  • Friday, December 9, 2 p.m. with option of adding noon meal
  • Friday, December 9, 7 p.m. with option of adding 5:30 p.m. meal
  • Saturday, December 10, 2 p.m. with option of adding noon meal
  • Saturday, December 10, 7 p.m. with option of adding 5 p.m. meal
  • Sunday, December 11, 3 p.m. with option of adding 1 p.m. meal

Chef Joe Trama and his team from Trama Catering have created a custom-themed menu option served in the ballroom of The Center for Visual and Performing Arts prior to all performances available as an additional purchase added to the cost of the show ticket.

Tickets for the show only are $30 and available by calling the Theatre at the Center box office at 219-836-3255 or at To add the meal option, it is $25 plus tax and gratuity with meal payment and required reservation made by calling the Trama Catering and Dining and Special Events Office at 219-836-1930, ext. 2.

Theatre at the Center is located at 1040 Ridge Road, in Munster, Indiana.


Josh Bootsma
Josh Bootsma
Josh is Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal and believes in the power and purpose of community news. He covers any local topics—from village government to theatre, from business openings to migratory birds.