"A CHRISTMAS CAROL," through Dec. 22 at Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive; call 801-984-9000 for more information.
The passing of Hale Centre Theatre’s beloved Richard Wilkins, who was slated to play Ebenezer Scrooge for his 28th season, came as a shock to the HCT family. The show rolled forward, however, opening last weekend, and Wilkins’ memory was honored with masterful performances.
David Weekes in the lead role proved this especially true. Although he had lately shared Scrooge duties with Wilkins, Weekes no doubt found himself in a unique and certainly difficult position with his colleague’s passing.
Single-cast very suddenly, his performance would be meant to remember a friend while also mollifying some disappointed patrons whose loyalty to the production has had much to do with the Scrooge fixture that was Wilkins.
Weekes did not disappoint — and neither did any measure of the production.
This is not just an attempt to be charitable to a theater company recently hit with the loss of one of its own. The truth is, although Weekes has been well-received in years past, it was as if he stepped into his mentor’s shoes and proved himself worthy to uphold the legacy.
Weekes was memorable in every shade of Scrooge, from icy and unfeeling to terrified and trembling, to penitent to overjoyed and downright giddy. The transformation was seamless and drew the audience in, pleading for a deeper love of humankind — a greater desire to do good and a stronger belief that a changed heart is within our grasp.
Truly, the entire cast (I saw the Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday cast) deserves a mention, but I’ll resign myself to just a few names: Adam Dietlein as Scrooge’s nephew was an absolute standout; Anthony L. Levato as the ghost of Jacob Marley was bone-chilling (and so were the effects) — he was so scary that little ones might need to hide their eyes; Angela Jeffries as Belle delivered some of Dickens’ best lines with such sweet tenderness as to melt hearts; and Ethan Morgan as Tiny Tim was perfectly endearing.
Every adaptation of the Dickens classic requires a sifting process. The multitude of poignant and priceless nuggets abounds.
This production drives not just Dickens’ moral message, but social message, selecting passages on poverty and inaction that hang heavy in the hearts of audiences. Many productions opt not to include, for instance, the ghostly urchin children “Ignorance” and “Want.” HCT’s production not only includes them but adds: “the woes that man might change but does not,” to the sentiment.
The intertwining of traditional carols with a plea for the helpless and a path for change made for a spiritual experience.
Not only do I add my soliloquy to the masses of adoring Dickens fans who have been transformed by his verse, but to the thousands of HCT fans who have made this production a sell-out year after year. No doubt, the strong performances in Wilkins’ deeply felt absence won’t displace his memory, but rather honor it. And the audiences will keep coming — of that I’m sure.