SANDY — Audiences can look forward to some new perks in Hale Centre Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” this December as it breaks from its 32-year tradition of theater-in-the-round staging for the first time.
Held in the 467-seat Jewel Box Theatre at the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre in Sandy, the venue is cozier than the 900-seat theater-in-the-round that is currently showing Hale Centre Theatre’s “Aida.” But while the new thrust stage might be lacking in bells and whistles — there are no LED lights surrounding the theater, and sections of the stage don’t rise and lower dramatically — the simpler backdrop is a refreshing take for Charles Dickens’ timeless story of forgiveness and redemption.
With a single staircase on the left side of the stage and a bridge stretching across the floor that remain constants throughout the play, there isn’t much scenic variation in this year’s production. But this straightforward approach ensures that scene changes are more fluid, as a rotating disc in the center of the stage comes in handy by bringing out new props and sets in a matter of moments.
The story itself also thrives in the environment, with Stephen Kerr (Monday/Wednesday/Friday) at the helm playing the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge for the fourth time at HCT. Kerr adds true character to the part with his booming voice and seemingly endless amounts of energy, falling to the floor when Scrooge is spooked by ghosts and jumping on the bed when his character receives a second chance at life. The actor often had audience members holding their breath in anticipation and laughing at his antics.
Another highlight in the play was Addison Welch, who played the part of Bob Cratchit (M/W/F). A lovable character, he, too, touched the audience with his portrayal of a humble father who experiences emotions ranging from childlike joy at the anticipation of Christmas to complete despair at the loss of his son, Tiny Tim.
The new setting also ensured that the audience did not miss any of the special effects in the production. When the character Jacob Marley’s face appeared to Scrooge in a door knocker, the entire theater felt the spookiness of the moment. And when Scrooge’s name dramatically appears on his tombstone during a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, everyone is able to witness the moment at the same time — an effect that the theater-in-the-round can’t quite accomplish.
But while this year’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is undoubtedly more cozy and intimate, there’s also a minor drawback. A special effect of "London fog" that repeatedly floods the stage gives the setting a more authentic and eerie feel. However, it doesn’t always disperse well in the close quarters, washing over the audience at times — particularly those close to the front.
Marilyn Montgomery’s choreography was charming and well-executed as the actors made use of simple props including goblets and brooms in different numbers. The performers also used every available inch of the stage throughout the play, singing traditional Christmas carols between scenes to keep the production flowing.
Costumes by Anne Puzey gave the atmosphere a 19th-century feel, with top hats and plaid scarves worn by the actors and wide skirts and cloaks donned by the actresses. More elaborate outfits such as the robe and crown worn by the Ghost of Christmas Present also added a festive air.
HCT's production of “A Christmas Carol” brings just the right dose of holiday cheer to the season, celebrating the birth of Christ and the opportunity for new beginnings in a sweet, yet thought-provoking way.
Content advisory: "A Christmas Carol" contains moments of mild intensity and is suitable for all ages.