OREM — We all know the story: a crotchety old crook, a humanoid door knocker, 3 Christmas ghosts, a changed man, a goose, etc. Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is one of the most adapted works for the stage and screen. Yet, somehow, many people wait in eager anticipation for snow to fall, fires to light, and carols to be sung, signaling that it is time to, once again, to partake in this beloved story. Somehow, Scrooge’s tale of redemption remains exciting and endearing. However, this year’s production of A Christmas Carol at the Hale Center Theater in Orem left me feeling a little less passionate about this iconic story than I had expected.
Adapted by Bradley Moss, with Ted Lehman and Richard Wilkins, this version of A Christmas Carol (directed by Shawnda Moss) features a hefty amount of music, some of which is composed by Kyle Harper and Cody Hale. The production also includes an incredible violinist (Naomi White) to introduce the audience into the world of the story, though I wish she had been more utilized instead of the ensemble of carolers who sang in nearly every scene transition (and sometimes during the scenes, too). Often, the use of the carolers felt superfluous and lacked purpose, such as when they slowly approach Scrooge’s bed to take their sweet time moving it, or when Scrooge and the ghost of Christmas Past are serenaded by a group of dancing female carolers. These scenes left me confused, and the never-ending carols were overwhelming.
Most disappointing, however, were the technical elements and other hiccups in the production: Actors were missing their marks, spotlights were missing their actors, and light cues were early and late throughout. Frequently, actors’ faces were not properly lit, which broke my heart because I could sense they were often doing some solid acting work. Moments like this included the Jacob Marley visit and when Scrooge is alone with the Ghost of Christmas Future. While the first moment had a beautifully eerie green and blue lighting design by Joseph Governale, I could not discern any of the actors’ expressions.
The sound issues also inhibited the production. Microphones throughout the production fluctuated between off, muffled, and harshly loud, such as in the scene with Young Scrooge and his friend competing in the school room. The music was frequently too loud, especially in the second act. I saw this production opening night, so I am hopeful that the talented HCTO team will fix these errors. I have loved every HCTO I have seen and admire their technical artistry. So, these missteps were quite a shock.
Some of the costumes and wigs were mediocre, which also surprised me. Both elements felt tired in a way, like they just used last year’s pieces on different actors. Some of the women’s dresses looked like they didn’t fit right, for example. My heart went out to Tannah O’Banion playing the Ghost of Christmas Past, a clearly beautiful and talented actress with especially fantastic voice work, who was stuck in an oddly squished, square looking robe that distracted from her performance. Many of the wigs were unnaturally shiny or messy, and it looked odd having gray wigs on young actresses. Again, this is such a contrast from what audiences usually see at HCTO. The company is known for its incredibly tailored costumes and ridiculously realistic wigs, which is especially important to get right when the audience sits so close to the actors.
Overall, the acting was fine. It was hard to believe Ric Starnes’s portrayal as the scary and dreadful Ebeneezer Scrooge, but found him very believable as the “changed man” version of the character, giggling behind newspapers and lovingly connecting with street workers (some of my favorite moments in the show). His somewhat laxed reactions to supernatural events, however, pulled me out of the illusion and made it hard for me to believe his portrayal.
Some standouts in the cast included Doug Kaufman and Ethan Freestone as the solicitors, gracing the stage with welcome energy and quirky, lively mannerisms. Adelaide Boss is an absolute delight as Little Fran, bounding lovingly across the stage with a burst of energy and a surprising realism in her physicality and acting, despite being so young.
My favorite scenes were those of young Scrooge (played by Joseph Paul Branca) and Belle (played by Ellie Mellen). These actors provided lovely moments of connection and intimacy, and I especially loved the chilling moment when Branca looks up at Mellon from his desk as she faces him after dancing. Still, it was often hard to distinguish the various characters that the same actors played. Branca, for example, behaved almost in the exact same manner as Young Scrooge and Fred, making it confusing. When Branca and Mellon later walked across stage mocking Scrooge’s death, it took me a second to realize that they were supposed to be different characters and not a couple, as nothing distinguished them besides the changes in Mellen’s voice. Additionally, interactions among the Cratchit family felt too angelic for any real family to relate to (especially with the Partridge Family-esque singing,) and I wished I had seen more rawness in these characters, especially when they are grieving.
The 2022 version of A Christmas Carol at Hale Center Theater in Orem is a mixed bag. While the disappointing technical elements will likely improve during the course of the run, the acting remains mostly steady and energetic. I imagine children and those who absolutely adore Christmas carols would enjoy this production. HCTO’s A Christmas Carol had some deficiencies in its opening performance, but I am confident the skillful production team will restore it to a production worthy of the high ticket price.