"When people think of 'A Christmas Carol,' they think of 'Tiny Tim.' People don't think about the beggar boy or the turkey boy. They aren't major characters," explains Phillip Lewis, a 12-year-old from Northwest Washington who did not land the popular role in Ford's Theatre's holiday classic. However, Phillip landed not one but eight roles -- bit parts that have him racing back and forth at Ford's between cues and costume changes. "Actually, I'm on stage more than Tiny Tim."
Phillip is one of four area youngsters -- and the only one who lives in Washington -- now appearing in this season's holiday fare at Ford's Theatre. He appears as a beggar boy, turkey boy, actor, pub employe, snowballer, cabin boy and all-around bahhumbugger. No question about it, he works as hard as anyone in this cast of professionals.
"Out of a two-hour-and-10-minute show I'd say I'm on stage for an hour and a half," he generously estimates. But I'm changing costumes all the time. That keeps me busy, too."
Phillip, an energetic youngster with a sunbeam smile, says he's happy with his work in "A Christmas Carol" even though he didn't get the role he set out for. "A friend at school told me that the audition was only for Tiny Tim. I didn't know if I would get it, but I just thought, 'I'll give it a try and see what I can come up with.'"
At auditions earlier this fall, Phillip immediately caught the eye of director Rae Allen, according to Ford's publicist Nancy Lesser. "That one," Allen said after scanning the 70 or so little ones who showed up for the call. Allen finally picked 8-year-old Johathan Dyas-Sysel of Arlington for the popular Tiny Tim role. Among other things, Phillip was too old to be the nimble little Tiny Tin. But Allen made a good choice in selecting him as the jack-of-all trades who romps through a potpourri of characters.
Though all of his speaking parts are small, Phillip was bright-eyed and effervescent each time he appeared onstage at last weekend's previews. In the first act he sweetly cajoled the audience to join him and the other carolers in rounds of "Joy to the World" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." And he was splendid in his good-natured teasing of the old grouch Scrooge, played by Tony Award winner John Cullum.
Phillip is new to the theater, although his manner on and offstage is professional. "The more plays you see, the more you're gonna learn. The more plays you're in, the more you're gonna learn," he chirps. The indication is that he's only at the beginning of a long stage career.
For now, however, his list of credits is short: He was the understudy for the role of "Punch" in Ford's 1979 production of the black musical "Storyville" and was an apprentice this summer with Library Theater at Wolf Trap Farm Park. He is a seventh grader at Mater Amoris Montessori School, where he sings with the glee club and appears in school plays.
Phillip is the son of Delano Lewis, one of the city's political movers-and-shakers and a "washingtonian of the Year" who headed then-Mayor-elect Marion Barry's transition team. A few years ago, when his father was being interviewed about the Barry transition, Phillip asked the reporter, "Hey, why don't you do a story on me?" He was told that if he did something notable there would be a story about him.
Apparently, Phillip took up the challlenge.