Review: Hale Center Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is charming, nostalgic

Stephen Kerr as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday cast. Photo courtesy: Hale Center Theatre

SANDY, Utah, Dec. 12, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — I don’t know about you, but I find it really easy to get overwhelmed at Christmastime. There are places to go and events to organize and food to prepare and presents to buy and people to see and while it’s all very joyous, it can be quite stressful too.

That’s why “A Christmas Carol,” at Hale Center Theatre, is a perfect antidote to all the hustle and bustle; it reminds us very clearly to slow down and remember what’s important in life.

The show is playing this year, like last year, on the Sorenson Legacy Jewel Box Stage, which is the smaller theater in Sandy’s Mountain America Performing Arts Centre, though it still seats more than 450.

The show is true to Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel. Former BYU professor, actor and Dickens scholar Richard Wilkins, and his wife, Melany, adapted the story. For 2018, the 34th time the show has been produced at HCT, it has been reinvented with new surprises including an LED screen backdrop.

I grew up in England, and I have to say the whole show really took me back to the streets of London at Christmastime. The sets by Kacey Udy are sumptuous and delightfully traditional, with lots of candles, holly and ivy and classic Yuletide decorations. The LED screens are used very subtly, for example to portray a London street scene. Thankfully, the use of this very modern technology doesn’t take one out of the period portrayed. There are also a number of fun tricks to watch out for within the set design; you’ll see if you go.

I also loved the traditional English music; Utahn Barlow Bradford arranged and orchestrated the music which features authentic-to-the-time carols such as “Silent Night,” “Deck the Hall” and “Away in a Manger.” Anne Puzey directs the music.

The director of the show, John J. Sweeney, really keeps the themes of the story at the forefront; transformation, forgiveness, compassion and the importance of family and love. I also really appreciated that he didn’t make the characters, as iconic as they are, into caricatures. The performances are strong across the board, and the British accents are good; sometimes the Cockney is a bit wobbly, but that’s a hard one to nail perfectly. The night we saw the show, Stephen Kerr was Ebenezer Scrooge, and he did an excellent job, with a clear arc that saw him completely transform in the course of the play.

The casting was innovative too. The ghosts are presented traditionally, but with interesting twists; the Ghost of Christmas Past was played by a young girl (Jackie Spendlove), while Christmas Present (Daniel Fenton Anderson) was a jocular Scot. My favorite ghost was silent Future ghost: it appears to Scrooge as an imposing figure entirely muffled in a hooded cloak, but with hands that appear to be a sort of shimmery golden color, which was an innovative addition.

Which brings me onto the other production elements; the costume design is led by Kristy Draper, and, the costumes are imaginative and at times opulent. Draper, assisted by Susan Burnett, with hair and make-up design by Candice Cronin, creates muted looks for the poor characters such as the Cratchit family, colorful, elegant designs for the more well-to-do characters, and then, as I mentioned, awe-inspiring fantastical looks for the show’s specters. The lighting design by Michael Gray really works well to set the different moods.

There was also one other element to the evening that struck me, and that was that the event really felt like one was hanging out with a big family. It was my husband’s first trip to the new Hale theater, and the man sitting next to him overheard him say this, and immediately introduced himself to us and said that he is an usher at the venue, then chatted to us about the show and its history. That was a nice start to our visit and I appreciated the friendliness.

The Hale will present more than 50 consecutive performances of “A Christmas Carol.” Performance times are at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and matinees Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Additional matinee performances will be held on weekdays starting as early as Dec. 20. Ticket prices are $36-49 for adults and $21-26 for youth ages five through 17. No children under the age of 5 are permitted in the theater.

For ticket information call 801-984-9000, click here, or visit the box office at 9900 S. Monroe Street in Sandy City.

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