A Christmas Carol

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The Hale Center Theater in Orem performs “A Christmas Carol” every year. It’s a tradition. Many people make it part of their annual celebration to see this show at this theater. The play’s feel-good tone and gentle message of redemption and hope are a fine way to kick off the holiday season.

So the most irrelevant thing in the world is whether the show is actually GOOD or not. Good or bad, polished or sloppy, well-acted or dreadful, “A Christmas Carol” will continue to be popular no matter what any critic says, and no matter what the voice in the back of any audience member’s head says.

(In fact, I would venture to guess that if anyone ever said anything disparaging about this show, he would be dismissed as a cynic — as a Scrooge himself. How can it be bad? It’s about Christmas!)

Well, not that it matters, but “A Christmas Carol” actually IS pretty good. Chris Brower plays the role of miserly humbugger Ebenezer Scrooge with gusto and vigor; everyone else is double-cast, meaning you get one group on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and another on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This review is for the Tu-Th-Sat cast, though I have every reason to believe it makes little difference which cast you see in terms of the show’s quality.

You know the story. Scrooge loves money more than anything else, and he’s a bitter old man. Christmas Eve night, he is visited by the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley (Cory Sackett), who warns him of the chain-filled afterlife that awaits him if he doesn’t straighten up. To beat the point into his stingy head, the ghosts of Christmas Past (Bryce Ashdown), Christmas Present (Merrill Dodge) and Christmas Future (Garrett Smit) harass him all night, showing him what was, what is, and what will come if he doesn’t get himself into the Christmas spirit but quick. Scrooge does so, buying a huge turkey for his much-abused clerk Bob Cratchit (Mark Pulham) and causing Tiny Tim (Cody Whitlock), who previously had one crippled foot in the grave but now will live thanks to Scrooge’s munificence, to remark: “God bless us, everyone.”

God bless us, indeed. The show is sweet and good-natured, with a particularly solid performance by Brower as Scrooge. Alan Sackett and Mike Sackett are pretty good, too, as a teen-age Scrooge and his friend Dick Wilkins. The two have a couple fight scenes that are impressively choreographed and performed (albeit a bit long).

There is much Christmas caroling and rejoicing amongst the townspeople, played by a cast of a couple dozen or so. All are in delightful holiday costumes, and the lights and sound for this show are dynamite, especially during Jacob Marley’s clattering entrance.

I could mention the structural problems with Ted Lehman’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. We see only a two-dimensionally mean Scrooge, and only for about five minutes. After only a few moments with the first ghost, he’s learning the error of his ways, and by the time Christmas Present shows up, he’s downright humble. This is the life-long, hardened miser? A guy who quakes as soon as a ghost shows up and changes his entire outlook on life at the drop of a chain? One would think he would be a bit more stubborn and resistant to change.

I said I COULD mention this. But it doesn’t matter. “A Christmas Carol” isn’t so much a play anymore; it’s a pageant. It’s enough to merely be TOLD that Scrooge is mean. We don’t need to be shown nuances and subtleties of his psyche. We already know the story and half of the lines. What we need is a warm, enjoyable, family-friendly evening, and on those counts, “A Christmas Carol” delivers.

I mean, really. Does anyone CARE whether "A Christmas Carol" is good or not? They're gonna go anyway. It's like saying most of the rides at Disneyland aren't fun (which they're not). Go ahead and say it, and see if attendance decreases any.

One of the more disturbing things I saw this particular week was in this show. The ghost of Christmas Past was played by a little boy whom they dressed up like a girl fairy-princess-type. He had a long, curly platinum blond wig, and a white lacy gown. Why didn't they just get a girl to play the part? Who ever said the ghost of Christmas Past HAS to be female, anyway? These were among the questions I pondered as I watched the 7-year-old cross-dresser.

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