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Historic Rivertowns

‘A Christmas Carol’ Actor Enjoys Putting People in the Spirit of the Season

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December 8, 2022

By Tom Pedulla

Jonathan Kruk was never so merry as he presents “A Christmas Carol” each weekend this month at The Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow.

Audiences, not to mention a sense of normalcy, are returning after the pandemic took an enormous toll on the financial and emotional well-being of performers such as Kruk and Erika Lieberman, a harpist who complements him as he recounts Charles Dickens’ inspiring masterpiece.

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“I really had a difficult time. I got into debt,” said Kruk, 67, who gradually built a reputation throughout the Hudson Valley as a master storyteller over the last three decades.

He met his obligations through the aid of friends and donors until he could return to the stage he relishes. He helped recently to light up Halloween as he brought Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to life the way few can. He will mark the holiday season with 28 scheduled performances of “A Christmas Carol.”

For Kruk, the opportunity to tell Dickens’ tale of the transformation of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is appreciated more than ever before.

“I get to see folks up close and personal and have them come up after “A Christmas Carol” and say, ‘You got me into the Christmas spirit,’” said Kruk, who grew up in nearby Katonah. “I can shake their hand and give them a hug and say, ‘I’m glad to hear that.’ That is what sustains me through the pandemic and beyond.”

“A Christmas Carol” offers a powerful message to atheists, agnostics, and those of all faiths.

“In many respects, it’s my favorite story to tell because it’s about hope for redemption. All of us have a little bit of the Scrooge inside,” Kruk said. “If an odious old skinflint of a miser Ebenezer Scrooge can be redeemed, transformed, there is hope for us all to bring out our best and shine and be generous. It is timeless, the story. It appeals to people of all persuasions.”

Kruk first recognized his gift for entertaining when he told bed-time stories to James, his younger brother by 12 years. The Holy Cross graduate initially helped to support himself by operating a business that cared for indoor plants, including those that belonged to Henry Kissinger and ESPN.

He sold that business in approximately 1990. He developed his skills by appearing at more than 1,000 children’s parties over the next 10 years. He learned to be unfazed when youngsters thought it great fun to throw toys at him.

Schools, libraries and noisy public parks also have provided venues for his talent, which was featured on The Today Show. He has been performing “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” for the last 25 years, “A Christmas Carol” for the last 12 years.

He has never experienced the bright lights of Broadway, and that is okay with him. There is no place he would rather be during the holiday season than the Old Dutch Church.

“It’s enchanting being in that simple, sacred Old Dutch Church with the pale light shining in from the moon across the tombstones through the old rippled glass to the stern pews, which make you sit up to the story,” Kruk said. “It’s a little bit chilly. It’s all illuminated by candlelight.”

“And all of that fulfills what Dickens said at the beginning of the story. ‘I hope this little ghost of a story doesn’t put you out of sorts, but rather puts you in the spirit of the season.’ And that is my calling, to put people into the spirit of the season at this time of year.”

Lieberman provides the perfect accompaniment with her masterful playing of the harp. “It’s ethereal and, with each touch of the harp string, it touches a heart string,” Kruk said. “It immediately transports people into the story. I’m stepping through the door that she opens.”

Lieberman describes Kruk as a “wonderful creative spirit.” He evokes memories of the late comedian Robin Williams in his ability to instantly change voices and characters.

“He switches between them so quickly that you don’t even know what’s happening,” Lieberman said. “You’re experiencing all these different people in the blink of an eye. He really embodies them. It’s just amazing to watch.”

For entertainers and their fans, those magical moments are savored as never before.

“To see all those smiling faces,” Lieberman said, “there is nothing like it.”

 

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