OREM — It seems that nearly every theater does an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, whether that be one of many published adaptations, an original re-telling of the classic, or a musical version. And for good reason! The beloved story of Ebenezer Scrooge, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, along with Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit and Jacob Marley creates just the right mix of holiday cheer, thought provoking reflection on our lives, and the inspiring hope of repentance and forgiveness that inspire viewers to become better and focus on the meaning of Christmas.
I never cease to be amazed at what the staff at the Orem Hale can pull off on their tiny stage. The small venue creates a level of intimacy and creativity, which makes Hale one of the best theaters in the state. And this adaptation of A Christmas Carol with music and lyrics by Cody Hale is simply the best Christmas production in the state. The technical elements of the production (under the direction of Todd Mitchell, Cody Hale and Cody Swenson) were truly remarkable. Whether a scene required fog, special lighting, enhanced or distorted voices, ensemble singing or an actor disappearing through a trap door, each moment was clean and crisp which helped to create the world of the play. This technical team transition scenes, established moods, and created locations with ease. In fact, the entire theater was transformed into the story so that the experience was an interactive one. Beginning with the live instrumental quartet as the audience entered, to the painted stained glass windows around the back walls, to the well-crafted costumes (under the design of Maryann Hill) and set design (under the design of Bobby Swenson and Penny Jones), the immersive nature and attention to detail pulled me into the production in a unique way.
The acting from every cast member was outstanding. With the talented Chris H. Brower at the helm as Ebenezer Scrooge, the show was in good hands. Brower brought sincerity to the role and found just the right balance of comedy and gruffness to his character’s journey. I was engaged every moment he was on stage, and he brought out a level of dimension and humanism to what can often end up as a stock character. Cam Cahoon as Bob Cratchit created a loving character and father in this role. His gorgeous voice really shined in his solo “What Child is this?” at the graveside of Tiny Tim. Zachary Harrison as Fred brought a lot of humor to the show, and his interactions with his stage wife (played by MacKenzie Pedersen) during the party scene, and his jousting with his uncle Scrooge were especially entertaining. Jake Ericksen made a delightful Young Scrooge. His duet with older Scrooge “I Was a Boy” was a hauntingly beautiful moment of the show.
Matea Birkman made a wonderful Ghost of Christmas Past. This young actress has talent and stage presence well beyond her years. Her confidence and the mysterious nature she brought to the role was very engaging for such a young actress. Eric Manning as the Ghost of Christmas Present was also a standout. With a jolly laugh and a boisterous personality, he encompassed everything I’ve come to expect in this character. It was interesting to see the ghosts appear throughout the show as different characters. This linked the worlds of the supernatural and the natural together nicely, and contributed to a strong concept.
Much could also be said for the ensemble members. The strong voices blended beautifully as they sang various renditions of Christmas carols, beginning with a haunting rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” to open the show to the “Coventry Carol” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Each ensemble member’s character had a clear personality, which made resulted in just the right level of background energy and prevented the ensemble from pulling the focus away from the main cast. As a result, the ensemble acted as a support to the primary action and story in each scene.
All of these actors and scenes were further brought to life under the strong direction of Jerry Elison. Elison created a dark, yet human telling of this classic story. At times scenes were frightening and eerie, though equally full of laughs among the various actors and ensemble. I especially enjoyed the voice over narration and how Elison helped Scrooge to interact with the narrator in creative ways that enhanced the comedy and kept the production moving briskly. I also appreciated Elison’s use of offstage music and storytelling that occurred concurrently with the onstage action, such as Christmas carolers singing throughout the opening scene offstage as if they were on a street corner outside Scrooge’s office. Such attention to detail brought dimension to the story and further enhanced the immersive audience experience of being part of 1843 London.
Running just under 2 hours, this production is an excellent choice to bring the entire family. The strong acting, excellent direction, beautiful music and immersive nature of the venue all contribute to the highly successful yearly Christmas tradition that Hale Center Theater Orem has brought to Utah County for years.