Good Life

Tony Lentz prepares to close the book on ‘A Christmas Carol’

Tony Lentz stands for a portrait with his copy of “A Christmas Carol” Tuesday at The State Theatre. After 40 years, Lentz will be performing the Charles Dickens classic this December for the last time.
Tony Lentz stands for a portrait with his copy of “A Christmas Carol” Tuesday at The State Theatre. After 40 years, Lentz will be performing the Charles Dickens classic this December for the last time. psheehan@centredaily.com

Tony Lentz is searching for a passage about the Cratchits, the impoverished but contented clan that provides the moral backbone of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

There was a time when he would’ve reached for this information and found it patiently waiting, poised somewhere on the edge of his mind next to his phone number and home address, but on cold and clear Tuesday in the lobby of The State Theatre, it appears that there’s a gap in Lentz’s filing system.

He can remember the gist of the paragraph — something about being happy, grateful and other adjectives that have achieved a certain level of synergy with the holidays.

Lentz has been performing dramatic readings of “A Christmas Carol” for 40 years — to small churches with spotty microphones, to a crowd of four inside the State College Municipal Building, to a packed hall in Aaronsburg.

“I sometimes think I’ve done some of my best performances for God because he was the only one there,” Lentz said.

On a good day, what comes out on stage is about 90 percent Dickens, 10 percent Lentz. To prevent that ratio from slipping any further in the opposite direction, he’ll be hanging up his frock coat for good at the end of the season.

Lentz’s final performance will be held at 5 p.m. on Dec. 21 at Schlow Centre Region Library. A day prior, he’ll have celebrated turning 70 years old.

That’s a pretty good run for a kid from Stony Point, N.C. Lentz had encountered Dickens’ classic holiday tale on television, but never heard the original text performed live until he was well into his first few rocky months at Chapel Hill University.

“That story, with its message of hope, was something I remembered vividly in that context,” Lentz said.

His own leather-bound transcription of Dickens’ work was already in hand when he touched down at Penn State at 1980, where Lentz would teach storytelling and public speaking until retiring three decades later.

In preparation for the season, Lentz spends weeks exercising his vocal cords in the sanctuary at Park Forest Village United Methodist Church and drinking a lot of honey.

The years haven’t dulled his voice — or his emotional attachment to the material. Lentz still gets choked up when he talks about the redemptive power of Ebenezer Scrooge, who at the beginning of the story has been crushed into an elderly miser of a man by life’s petty cruelties.

“We can fight against that, we can make choices of kindness or generosity,” Lentz said.

After 40 years, the way his own story is told may ultimately be up to the crowds that gather to hear him each holiday season. Something he used to tell his students might apply here.

“As a performer and a speaker, you don’t know what kind of impact that you’ll have on people,” Lentz said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

If you go

What: Tony Lentz performs “A Christmas Carol”

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday and Dec. 18

Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave, State College

Info: www.thestatetheatre.org

If you go

What: Tony Lentz performs “A Christmas Carol”

When: 5 p.m. Dec. 21

Where: Downsbrough Community Room in Schlow Centre Region Library, 211 S. Allen St., State College

Info: www.schlowlibrary.org

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