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Section: Feature

WKBW-TV’s Mike Randall Brings Charles Dickens to Life
By Megan Fitzgerald

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WKBW-TV’s Mike Randall as Dickens in Charles Dickens Presents: A Christmas Carol.
Many Western New Yorkers spend time with Mike Randall every morning. After all, he’s the meteorologist on WKBW-Channel 7’s Good Morning Western New York. But others know him as one of the country’s foremost interpreters of Mark Twain and, in Charles Dickens Presents: A Christmas Carol, as Dickens himself.

Randall, complete with 19th-century beard, hairstyle, and attire, transports his audience to Buffalo’s St. James Hall in March 1868, where Dickens performed two sold-out shows as a part of his critically acclaimed American reading tour.

“The story A Christmas Carol is a holiday classic, but few people have ever witnessed Dickens’ edited stage piece performed as he performed it himself,” says Randall. “I don’t read the story on stage; I act out all the characters just as Charles Dickens did in 1868 when he performed here in Buffalo.”

The performances that Randall is referring to were highly anticipated engagements that drew crowds of 3,000 people per night. Interestingly enough, Dickens’ tour, including his stop in Buffalo, almost did not happen. He had difficulty finding a qualified tour manager.

In addition, he did not know if he would be welcomed back to America after his previous visit in 1842. (The visit prompted him to write a book on how crass and vulgar the natives were; Americans who read the book held a bit of a grudge.)

Fortunately, Dickens found a devoted manager in George Dolby, whom he sent to America to “test the waters.” Upon his return, it was decided that the nation’s bitterness was not severe enough to miss out on such an opportunity.

So despite his deteriorating health, Dickens decided to go through with the tour. Buffalo, the 11th largest city in America at the time, remained a constant on the itinerary primarily because Dickens wanted to visit nearby Niagara Falls for the second time.

Though Dickens never performed as an actor professionally, he mounted numerous amateur productions. “Eventually, once he started performing his works for the public, many experts of the day agreed he was an excellent actor,” says Randall, adding that Dickens received “rave reviews” from critics and audiences.

“There is a long tradition of one-person shows in the theater,” says Randall. “In fact, as a child, Dickens used to go see an actor named Charles Matthews, who performed solo. Reportedly, Dickens was mesmerized by those performances, and they were his motivation for wanting to become an actor.”

At the same time, according to Randall, the challenge of doing a one-person show is being alone on the stage. “No one is around to help dig you out of a hole if you get lost or forget a line,” he says.

He also acknowledges the difficulty of preparing for this particular performance, where he plays a character who himself plays multiple characters. “When preparing for a role, building the character you are playing is an important challenge,” says Randall. “In this show, since I play 26 characters, the real work was done three years ago when I started researching, developing the voice and mannerisms, and most importantly, the accents for each of the men, women and children I play. On stage, I just need to reconstitute what has already been created during rehearsal.”

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Mike Randall at Forever Young’s Health and Living Expo, with WKBW’s Jon Summers (left) and Lanora Ziobrowski, program manager.
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Luckily, Randall is no stranger to the stage; he began performing as Mark Twain at age 17. One of his first performances was at a talent night held at Ruby Red’s, a pizzeria located on Niagara Falls Boulevard. It wasn’t until the age of 19 that he “went pro,” however, after being booked at the Buffalo Showboat on Hertel Avenue. In the 39 years since, Randall has performed Mark Twain Live! across the country more than 2,000 times.

In 2007, Randall began performing as Dickens, and so far has presented about 50 performances.

“Creative people are always looking for ways to challenge themselves — to find something new and fun,” says Randall. “I picked Dickens because I love the characters he created, and the fact that he loved to bring them to life on stage for an audience. And of course, A Christmas Carol is a timeless classic that we never get tired of hearing, and with a message we all need to be reminded of.”

Randall, an Associated Press and UPI award-winning feature reporter, has been with WKBW-TV since August 1983. He had previous experience at WFSB-TV in Hartford, Connecticut and WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Virginia.

A native of Western New York, Randall studied radio and television at Onondaga Community College, and theater arts at SUNY Geneseo. He obtained his Certificate in Broadcast Meteorology from Mississippi State University, and is the only local television meteorologist to have earned both the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association Seals of Approval.

In the community, Randall makes appearances at fundraisers for many charitable organizations, including the Variety Club of Buffalo, of which he is an avid supporter.

“I think theater is such a personal experience for everyone,” says Randall. “Someone attending my Charles Dickens show can expect to be entertained, and hopefully, to leave the theater in the true spirit of the season.”

For more information on show dates, locations, and times, call 840-7751 or visit www.charlesdickenslive.com and www.marktwainlive.com.


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