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Theater preview: 'A Christmas Carol' an embraced, enduring Hale tradition for families

Published: Saturday, Dec. 7 2013 5:15 p.m. MST

The history of the Hale theaters staging “A Christmas Carol” didn’t begin in 1985, when Ruth and Nathan Hale opened a Utah venue.

It's been a highly cherished family tradition for an astonishing 29 years, but the Hales' history with "A Christmas Carol" stretches back much earlier. The legendary theater founders had previously opened a theater in Glendale, Calif., and an adaptation of the Charles Dickens novella was first presented there 21 years earlier, in 1964.

With patriarch Nathan Hale portraying the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge.

The morality tale of Scrooge’s transformation has been annually staged at each of the four theaters Ruth and Nathan opened, and the shows are warmly embraced by sold-out audiences.

“At first no one came to the plays except our relatives,” Ruth related in an interview published on LDSFilms.com. “I’d go out and try to twist people’s arms and get them in off the street. If we had 28 people there, we thought we were fortunate. But then at Christmastime we decided to put on ‘A Christmas Carol’ and a miracle happened. The people came in hordes, and they’ve been coming ever since.”

“'A Christmas Carol' is an audience favorite, and one of ours as well,” says Anne Swenson, managing director/executive producer of Hale Center Theater Orem, adding that the theater would never consider staging any other production during the Christmas season.

“We love being able to bring this Christmas tradition to the community every year,” says Mark Dietlein, executive producer of Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City. “A Christmas Carol is such a central part of the theater’s history that we enjoy being able to present this story that everyone treasures in a way that’s consistent with Dickens’ writing.”

It's very conceivable that grandparents introducing grandchildren to the Hales' "A Christmas Carol" could have first seen the show as youngsters at a Hale theater.

In 1843, the English publishing firm of Chapman & Hall printed “A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas,” as the book was originally titled. It was immediately successful and has been a phenomenon ever since — just like a Hale staging.

“‘A Christmas Carol’ was written at a time of great socio-political and economic upheaval,” Swenson explains. “Charles Dickens spent his childhood continually struggling for the necessities of life and became a strong advocate for the poor as an adult. Despite the themes of social change, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is at its core a story of redemption.

"At a time of year when many celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, this parable of loving others more than yourself and of the peace and joy that comes from changing for the better will always resonate in hearts.”

“A Christmas Carol” is one of the rare novels to have deeply infiltrated popular culture with an enduring impact on Christmas. Consider the following:

  • Christmas is a major holiday. At the time of Dickens, the day was relatively ignored by most people and for others was "observed" but not "celebrated."
  • The greeting of “Merry Christmas” was popularized and became the most recurrent expression of the Christmas season.
  • “Bah humbug” was also introduced as an exclamation to mean “nonsense” or “gibberish.”
  • Christmas was established as a season to be generous to the poor.
  • The last name of Scrooge came to indicate miserliness and misanthropy.
  • Christmas became an occasion for gatherings of family and close friends.
Any one of the above points would be reason alone to honor the longstanding tradition and see a Hale yuletide presentation — beyond relating a very uplifting and entertaining story. With the two theaters operating independently of each other, each has its own version, providing a pair of opportunities for Utahns to savor the wonder that is a Hale "Christmas Carol."

If you go

What: “A Christmas Carol”

Where: Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City and Hale Center Theater Orem

When: through Dec. 24 at HCTWV and through Dec. 23 at HCTO

How much: $16-$29 at HCTWV and $17-$21 at HCTO

Tickets: 801-984-9000 or hct.org (HCTWV) and 801-226-8600 or haletheater.org (HCTO)

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