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The Little Earl: A Yuletide Classic

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A glittering musical interpretation of a family classic, brought to the stage by the brilliant creative team of a mother and son, seems the ideal holiday production for a community theatre. And tickets are now on sale for The Live Oak Theatre production of The Little Earl, a delightful musical for the Christmas season and nothing short of a modern Yuletide classic.

Presented in collaboration with Youth With a Mission Tampa, the Executive Producer Sponsor, and Production Design Sponsor Lisa Richards and Company, The Little Earl will be performed December 9, 10, 12, 17, 18, & 19. at the Carol and Frank Morsani Center for the Arts, 21030 Cortez Boulevard, Brooksville.

The Little Earl is based on the classic, Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Script, Music, and Lyrics are by Ellen Sanborn and David M. Sanborn; this production will be directed by Ellen Sanborn.

In the eyes of co-creator David Sanborn, The Little Earl is the ultimate holiday production. “It has everything we’d ever want in a heart-warming Christmas musical. It’s like Oliver meets Scrooge meets Annie. For musical adaptations, we always look for characters that ‘sing’ characters who are larger than life and yet remain very true to life. Their thoughts and aspirations are so grand that mere talk just doesn’t cut it. Frances Hodgson Burnett became famous for writing these kinds of characters in this story as well as The Secret Garden and The Little Princess. Little Lord Fauntleroy, on which we based this musical, was her most famous but, to our knowledge, astonishingly was never adapted to a musical, though it has been in a variety of movies with stars ranging from Mickey Rooney to Alec Guiness,” he said.

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In Sanborn’s mind, Live Oak is the ideal place to present this family-friendly production. “Live Oak is home for us. We agreed with Randi from the inauguration of Live Oak that, as soon as we finished writing The Little Earl, we would premier it at Live Oak Theater. We have been trying to find the time to write this show for years and years, in the midst of a lot of life events and the midst of writing other musicals like ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and ‘Yeshua.’ The first two songs we wrote for this musical were actually featured in one of Live Oak’s first theater camps a decade ago. Live Oak has the ideal setting and team to put together a production of this musical, that is not only professional but fun and filled with heart. That’s what Live Oak does best,” said Sanborn.

Vince Vanni, Live Oak spokesperson, is proud of the partnership that brings this fanciful dramatic reimagining to stage. “Live Oak Theatre and YWAM Tampa have had a long-standing relationship; Actually, since our inception. In fact, YWAM allowed us to serve as a division until we secured our own 501 (c) (3) designation from the IRS. Ellen, David, and Randi had talked about this show for quite some time. It was only until recently that Ellen and David had a finished product. The musical concludes with a beautiful celebration of Christmas, so this was perfect for a holiday offering,” he said.

“We are grateful that YWAM donated the rights to do the show and Lisa Richards donated the use of the sets. Therefore, they are listed as our Executive Producer Sponsor and our Production Design Sponsor,” he said.

Lisa Richards invested a great deal of time and intensive research into her production of The Little Earl. “Starting over a year ago I did a lot of research of late Victorian NYC and England. I then made a scale model of the Live Oak Theatre with the potential designed set in the space. After I drafted the design and bought supplies, I hired a friend this summer to help me build the platforms and flats in my garage. This fall I have spent all my spare time painting and decorating the set with some help from friends and family. My inspiration for style was Victorian Christmas cards. Each of the three set pieces revolves to create the setting for six main scenes with two additional rolling pieces. Building the set remotely forced me to have it in pieces which are assembled on the stage as we load into the theatre this week. And I designed it with the possibility of taking Little Earl on tour in the future,” she explained.

“Without being preachy, this story beautifully demonstrates the importance of giving the benefit of the doubt. The little Earl and his mother always assume the best intentions even when faced with the worst actions. We don’t always know the whole story behind people’s words and actions, and we should suspend judgment until we do. At times, the little Earl proves justified in giving the benefit of the doubt. While he’s usually wrong to assume charitable intentions to his Scrooge-ish grandfather, the grandfather becomes shamed into wanting to be the man that the little Earl thinks he is. It gives him a vision of what he can be, a vision of what we can all aspire to be,” said Sanborn.

Richards agrees. “I see this show as iconic as It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas,” she said. “It will delight people with its beauty and remind them of nostalgic Christmas’ and musicals of the past eras.”

Thursday and Friday evening shows are at 7:30 PM; Saturday and Sunday matinees are at 2:30 PM. To purchase tickets, go to https://liveoaktheatre.square.site/ or email [email protected] or call 352-593-0027. If you purchase tickets under different names and wish to be seated together, you must email the box office at [email protected] or call 352-593-0027.

Editor’s Note: This story was corrected on 12/2/21 to reflect that Ellen Sanborn is the director of The Little Earl.

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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