With the technical marvel that is the new stage at the Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley, you can’t blame them for using it to its full extent, even for non-spectacle shows like “A Christmas Carol.” If I had a toy like that, I’d use it every chance I got, too.
And so people plunge into trapdoors as if descending into bottomless pits, gravestones pop up when you least expect it, and Scrooge’s bedroom window descends from the sky for the 90 seconds the script requires it, then vanishes again.
But technical wizardry aside, this production is as touching as ever, with some extraordinarily human touches that bring the show down to earth and right into the audience’s collective heart.
Richard G. Wilkins, playing Scrooge for the 15th consecutive year (which is also as long as the Hale Centre Theatre has been doing the show), is a fine Scrooge indeed. He’s not the stooped-over, arthritic Scrooge we often expect. He’s rather robust, in fact, which makes him all the scarier. He’s sarcastic and biting, too, rather than just being a grumpy old man. Wilkins’s Scrooge is a force to be reckoned with.
From the haunting “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” that opens the show, right through the ending “Joy to the World,” the show’s music tends toward Christ-centered carols, rather than songs about decking the halls and having sleigh rides.
In one telling scene, Scrooge is particularly touched to see a past Christmas in which old Fezziwig’s family trimmed the tree while singing a simple hymn about the Savior’s birth.
Little elements like those, in which Scrooge is reminded not just of the spirit of Christmas but of the spirit of Christ Himself, outweigh all the moving platforms and atmospheric stage fog a theater could use. This is perhaps the most religious “Christmas Carol” I’ve seen.
Will Swenson’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s novel is good, allowing Dickens himself (played by Bruce A. Bredeson; double-cast with Mike Williams) to serve as narrator and occasionally even instruct the characters directly (though that convention does get a bit over-used, especially when Scrooge keeps glaring at him for telling him what to do, a joke that is only funny a couple times).
This is a spiritually uplifting production, inherently human and touching, with some nifty stage tricks added for fun. So convincing and cathartic is Scrooge’s redemption (and his redemption seems more real here than I’ve seen it anywhere) that when Wilkins comes out for the curtain call and declares “Merry Christmas!” to each section of the audience, you feel like he — and Scrooge — really mean it.