CHICAGO — First-time film director Richard Knight Jr. and a stacked cast of local actors set out 10 years ago to film “Scrooge & Marley,” a gay take on the classic Christmas story “A Christmas Carol.”
The film, which took 12 days to shoot, premiered to a sold-out crowd at the Music Box Theater in a one-off screening. Now the indie film is making a comeback with a streaming deal on Amazon Prime and a DVD release.
The film will also be adapted into a live musical which will premiere Monday at 7pm at the Center on Halsted’s Hoover Leppen Theatre, 3656 N. Halsted St. Tickets are free and can be reserved on the Centre’s website.
Scrooge & Marley stars actor David Pevsner as Ben Scrooge, who is visited by the ghost of his friend Jacob Marley, played by former Saturday Night Live actor Tim Kazurinsky.
The film largely follows the narrative arc of A Christmas Carol, but deviates to tell more of Scrooge’s backstory. It also portrays several characters, including Scrooge and Marley, as gay.
“So in our version we delve further into why Scrooge is so bitter and money hungry and it’s because he was kicked out as a teenager for being gay,” Knight said. “And that’s so typical.”
As in the classic tale, Scrooge is visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Knight said.
In Scrooge’s journey through his past, viewers will see him on the street after he’s kicked out, Knight said. Scrooge ends up going to the local disco, filmed at the famous, now-closed, gay bathhouse Man’s Country.
“This is the hottest club in town, and that’s where Scrooge meets Marley, who’s such a cheater,” Knight said. “Together they take on the club owner.”
During Scrooge’s visits from the other two spirits, viewers will see his redemption arc as Scrooge is healed by the power of love, Knight said.
“It’s intentionally an old-fashioned version of the story, but told in a gay way,” Knight said. “That should really make you feel good. It will make you sad, but it will make you feel really good.”
Rounding out the cast are actors Rusty Schwimmer, Megan Cavanagh, Bruce Vilanch, David Moretti, JoJo Baby and more.
Crew members include Peter Neville, co-director, editor and co-producer; Tracy Baim, producer; David Strzepek, producer; Ellen Stoneking, co-writer and co-producer; and Lisa McQueen, who wrote the musical score and original songs.
“It was such a local effort and that’s how we did it,” Knight said. “Everybody jumped in and said, ‘We’re going to help you.’ We made it snow in May.”
Everyone was passionate about making the film because gay Christmas movies were uncommon in 2012, save for a few movies, including 2009’s Make the Yuletide Gay, Knight said.
“Ten years ago people were amazed to see this type of film on screens,” Knight said. “That’s why representation is so powerful. Everyone wants to be represented and should be represented.”
Gay vacation movies are much more common now, Knight said. But attacks on LGBTQ people are still widespread.
“Every time I see the scene where Scrooge gets kicked out, his father is just merciless, but that was the experience,” Knight said. “And it’s still the experience. So many of us are still going through this and the hate is rising again. People are slandered for who they are.”
Knight said he’s happiest when new people like the film and its current issues.
“As Harvey Fierstein once told me in 1988, we have 1,000 stories to tell in the gay community,” Knight said. “We’re just getting started here.”
Listen to It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast: