NTPA Repertory Theatre Casts a Real Life Tiny Tim

It is poignant when the story becomes the reality. It is unforgettable when the two collide as they will in North Texas Performing Art’s (NTPA) 8th annual production of “Scrooge – The Musical.”

Dickens’ Tiny Tim character in “A Christmas Carol,” upon which “Scrooge – The Musical” is based, represents the achievement of goodness over adversity. Tiny Tim is a little boy facing a crippling disease, born to a working-class family but possessing the gift of a bright attitude and a positive hope for the future; he ultimately melts the heart of the selfish Scrooge.

Jonathan Rizzo auditioned and won the role of Tiny Tim in NTPA’s annual Christmas production because, in his words “I wanted to play Tiny Tim because he is just like me, and I know what it feels like to be him.”

Jonathan, now 11 years old, was diagnosed a little over a year ago with limb girdle muscular dystrophy type 2C. While today he still has a full range of motion, he experiences strength loss in his hips and is often wheelchair bound.  

Jonathan Rizzo // courtesy NTPA
Jonathan Rizzo at home // all photos courtesy NTPA

“We’re both crippled.” says Jonathan, knowingly. “I’m in a wheelchair and [Tiny Tim] is with a crutch… and I get worse and worse, and he gets worse and worse.” This progressive, inherited genetic disease generally leads to an eventual loss of the ability to walk and shortened lifespan.  There is no known cure.

But Jonathan happily takes the stage in this, his 24th, show, saying, “When I’m on the stage, I feel proud and confident … and I become the role and don’t think about any of this.” When asked if he gets nervous taking the stage, he replies, “No, I’m not nervous at all … none of this scares me.”  

“He’s such a positive little guy with such a warm and bright personality,” says Darrell Rodenbaugh, playing opposite Jonathan in the role of Scrooge. “We didn’t know he was facing this until he rolled into rehearsal in a wheelchair.” 

Jonathan’s father, Michael Rizzo, shared, “He has his good days and his bad, and more often he needs the chair.”

In most ways, Jonathan is like every other 11-year-old, though given his health challenges, he home schools.  His favorite drink is a chocolate shake and he loves his penne with red sauce. He plays Fortnite and wants to either be a “You-Tube Gamer or a neuro-muscular doctor … so that I can help other kids that are in the same situation that I’m in, or maybe an actor… I haven’t decided yet,” he says.

Jonathan Rizzo and Darrell Rodenbaugh
Jonathan Rizzo as Tiny Tim and Darrell Rodenbaugh as Scrooge

“We are 100% on board with talking about his obstacles and his successes overcoming all of this,” shares his mother, Tiffany Rizzo, who works as a respiratory therapist at Medical City Plano. “I think it’s fitting for him to be in the role of a boy who had nothing of monetary value, a life shortening ailment, and despite all of this, like Tiny Tim, has a great big heart full of love and joy.”  

“We want to provide a place where every child’s voice can be heard, and Jonathan has a very powerful and inspirational message,” says show director Sara Egelston Akers. “Each year we choose a charity to honor during our annual ‘Scrooge Christmas Tradition’ and he so inspired us that we are raising funds to support $1 of every ticket sold to go to Muscular Dystrophy research in his honor.”

In the show, Scrooge provides doctors and medical care to Tiny Tim, changing his fate. Next year, Jonathan participates in an experimental clinical trial employing gene therapy with the hope of protecting him from deteriorating further, and possibly even restore some functions.  

“Scrooge – The Musical” will take the stage Dec. 7-9 at the Rodenbaugh Theatre in the Willow Bend Center of the Arts at The Shops of Willow Bend, and Dec. 12-14 at Downtown Plano’s Courtyard Theater. This year’s cast will feature professional and amateur actors and over 60 adults and children from the DFW metroplex. “Scrooge – The Musical” is directed by NTPA Founder and NTPA Executive Director, Sara Akers. 

This year’s production again features a very special Merry Christmas Celebration including a “last chance” for children to meet with Santa and Mrs. Santa at Santa’s Workshop before each show. Each show also begins with the singing of favorite Christmas Carols of the cast and audience. 

NTPA will offer again its Gift to the Community performance for underprivileged and disadvantaged children, families and groups by offering a special free-admission show on Dec. 6.

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