Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Dickens' classic Christmas story follows the old, miserly and selfish businessman Scrooge as he is visited by the ghosts of his former business partner Marley, and Christmas Past, Present, and Future. In case you've never heard of, read or seen any of the numerous adaptations of the tale, the plot shows how Scrooge is impacted by visits from these four spirits and how they help him see the mistakes of his past and better understand the less fortunate people around him, especially his employee Bob Cratchit and Cratchit's young crippled son Tiny Tim. Set on Christmas Eve, it is a wonderful story of how one person changing their life for the better can consequently change the lives of those they touch.
Ted Lehman's adaptation is a sumptuous holiday treat that is completely faithful to the novel, including using an abundance of dialogue taken directly from the book. Director David Dietlein ensures the emotional impact of the show is felt with scenes that don't rush the importance of the story. Hale pulls out all of the stops to include an abundance of set elements, fog, snow, and numerous special effects as well as sumptuous lighting from Jeff A. Davis and a nonstop parade of beautiful costumes coordinated by Mary Atkinson. A dozen Christmas carols are interspersed throughout the show, including ones that tie directly into the storyline. Cambrian James' choreography for these musical moments is beautifully stated without being overly elaborate, which would detract from the importance of the story, and Lincoln Wright's music direction and a cast with beautiful singing voices make the songs impactful.
The Hale production is double cast and the night I attended the Green cast with Mark Kleinman as Scrooge was performing. This is Kleinman's sixth turn as the stingy, heartless and unfeeling man at Hale and he clearly excels at playing this gruff and cruel character. In his impressive portrayal, the changes the miserly man makes are beautifully displayed through Kleinman's changing body language and facial expressions.
There isn't a weak link in Hale's large cast, with the majority of the ensemble playing multiple roles. Tim Paul Fiscus does a wonderful job as Cratchit. He instills a deep sense of emotion and warmth in the scenes with Mrs. Cratchit and their children, and Cratchit's encounters with Scrooge, where he is afraid anything he says or does may set his employer off, are expertly played. He also delivers a touching solo of "What Child is This?" As Marley, the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the Ghost of Christmas Present, Matthew R. Harris, Heidi-Liz Johnson and Mark Hackmann, respectively, provide clear and effective portrayals of these very different specters, and Stephen Serna is full of life as Scrooge's carefree nephew Fred.
The entire cast each get a few moments to shine and in smaller parts, Danny Karapetian brings a firm sense of joy to one of the show's narrators as well as a serious focus to the young, determined Scrooge; Laura Soldan infuses the hardworking mother of six Mrs. Cratchit with a perfect dose of realism and exhaustion; and Lacey Elliott adds some lovely, natural touches to Belle, the girl who becomes the fiancée of the younger Scrooge. Also, Raymond Barcelo and Kinsey Peotter are full of joy as the fun-loving Fezziwigs and also deliver a stirring "Candlelight Choral," while Nathan Spector and Jeff Deglow play humorous characters who provide a few moments of levity. Also, Johnson's solo of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is especially moving.
Each year Hale presents this show, it sells out for almost all of the over 50 performances it plays, so it's easy to see why they continue to bring it back year after year. It's a testament to both the stunning achievement of Hale's production and the power of Dickens' tale. With exceptional creative elements and an incredibly talented cast, Hale's A Christmas Carol is a magical and moving holiday treat and a beautiful adaptation of this classic tale.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of A Christmas Carol runs through December 23rd, 2017, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at https://www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling 480-497-1181.
Directed by David Dietlein