Jim Keyes, the Music Man of ‘Christmas Carol’

Jim Keyes in Christmas Carol

You might expect a show with “Christmas Carol’’ in its name to feature music of some kind. Historic Hudson Valley’s presentation of Dickens’s ‘Christmas Carol,’ coming to Sleepy Hollow in December, features a virtual one-man band in musician Jim Keyes. “I’ll be playing the church’s organ, Celtic harp, and fiddle,’’ says Keyes, “as well as various sound effects—chains, chimes, etc. I’ll also be vocalizing ghosts and whatnot.’’

“A Christmas Carol’’ is set in a poor section of London in the mid-1800s. Keyes’ score for the show is appropriately atmospheric and textural, intertwining with traditional carols from the 19th century and earlier. “As with any score,’’ says Keyes, “each character has his or her motif, which announces their presence in the story and gives a hint of things to come.’’

Because the music and the performance are so connected, it means that Keyes and master storyteller Jonathan Kruk must watch each other closely during the show, because things don’t always go exactly as planned.

“Jonathan, being a consummate performer, always adapts what he’s doing to suit the feedback he’s getting from the audience,’’ says Keyes. “Therefore, he never really does the same show twice. That means that I have to be on my toes to make sure he gets the right cue at the right time, while not holding him back from the performance he’s creating.’’

In addition to providing the musical backdrop, Keyes leads the audience in a round of carol singing before Kruk takes the stage. This tradition got its start one night when a large bus group was running late, and the show was delayed while the performers waited for the group to arrive.

“The people that were already there were becoming restless,’’ recalls Keyes, “and I just so happened to have a guitar in my car. I got it and did sort of a game-show shtick centered on ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas,’ the idea being that most people don’t know all twelve days.’’ Keyes’ caroling diversion proved so popular with the audience that evening that it became a part of every show. “This can sometimes result in a heated debate,’’ says Keyes, “but it’s always fun!’’

Want to experience Dickens’s ‘Christmas Carol’ for yourself? Click here for more information