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Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was originally published in 1843, over 175 years ago. But this year on the Ellen Theatre stage, it feels new.

“This is not the “Christmas Carol” you thought you were going to see,” director Mark Kuntz said. “I get the challenge of reinventing a classic.”

The Ellen has performed “A Christmas Carol” for years and has spent the past three performing the same script. That changed this year, when the theater decided to breathe new life into the play by using a different adaptation. The three famous spirits that visit Ebenezer Scrooge are all played by women and, of the 28 cast members, more than half have never performed on the Ellen’s stage before.

“To me, that brings a different kind of energy,” said John Ludin, the executive director of the Ellen and Montana Theatreworks, the theater company that calls the Ellen its home. “There isn’t anything that is the same other than the bones of the story.”

Joshua Bartkoske, 22, is one of those cast members who is new to the Ellen’s stage. He did some theater in high school, but “A Christmas Carol” is his first production since then.

“I’ve never been in such an environment,” said Bartkoske, who plays the character Topper and a policeman. “It’s such an exciting thing to make it come to life.”

Joel Jahnke, however, isn’t a newcomer to the stage. Jahnke has played Scrooge for the past three years. He said it’s an “honor and a rare treat” to reprise his role as Scrooge, calling the play “one of the greatest stories of redemption ever told.”

“You want the audience to go along on this ride with Scrooge, not just watch him,” Jahnke said. “It’ll seem like a whole new play.”

Jahnke was the artistic director for over three decades with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and worked with Kuntz and Bartkoske while they were in college at Montana State University. Kuntz said Jahnke was a “mentor” to him, and Bartkoske echoed that sentiment.

“When I see him playing Scrooge, not only am I helping tell a tale ... I get to, in a way, honor him,” said Bartkoske. “It’s a really cool experience to watch him.”

Jahnke said this year will likely be his last reprising his role as the infamous penny-pinching Scrooge.

“[I’ll] go out on a high note,” he said.

The play isn’t intended to scare audience members, but it does tell a story that includes some elements which may scare young kids.

“The goal wasn’t to scare people but to tell the story faithfully, and there is some supernatural to that,” Ludin said.

If one can brave a few hair-raising scenes, Ludin said play is a work of art in more ways than one, citing the acting, the set painting, the costume design and the dedication of all those involved.

“For anybody who’s interested in anything artistic ... it’s being expressed up there,” said Ludin. “I love that.”

“A Christmas Carol” opens at the Ellen Theatre on Friday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. and runs every weekend and select weekdays until Sunday, Dec. 22. Tickets for the show can be bought at the Ellen’s box office and online at

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at or at (406) 582-2651.