KAYSVILLE — The Hopebox Theatre’s thrust stage gives audience members an intimate proximity to the cast in every productions. The venue is cheery, inviting, and it is a beautiful thing to watch ushers guide each patron to their seat. It is easy to feel right at home, and for my last review of 2023, I was thrilled to come face to face with this cheery adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol: The Musical, with a book by Mike Ockrent, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. The stage featured an ornately painted clock on the floor downstage center which gave me the chance to teach my young son about Roman numerals as we waited for the production.
The musical hits all the major beats of Dickens’ beloved tale, but to a soundtrack that feels like it could have come from the sequel to a 1990s Disney movie. The play was a considerably lighter affair than the same story on stage at the Parker Theatre. The Hopebox’s take on A Christmas Carol may play well to an audience looking for more Christmas cheer and a simpler story. The play is largely sung straight through, but the pacing of the show was bouncy, and I was surprised when the first ghost had finished her visit with Scrooge and intermission arrived. It was a show that took no effort to get into, and I loved seeing how engaged the audience was from the beginning.
The performance was of the Hopebox Silver Cast, with a few players filling in for the performance on Wednesday, December 13. Marty Davis filled in for the part of Bob Cratchit and was splendid in the role. Only one Bob had been cast, but Davis stepped right in and looked as though he had played the part for years. He sung well, but his true strength came from the acting and characterization he portrayed through the story. Without the benefit of being able to pause for dialogue in a show that is sung straight through, Davis managed to make simple choices (such as rubbing his hands, or positioning himself in strategic places) to show how his character felt and his relationships to others. When Scrooge comes at the end with the Christmas turkey, I was touched by Davis almost imperceptibly standing between his towering oppressor and his family. It was such a striking image of a good man defending his family and honor instead of cowering to a perceived intimidation attempt at his own door, and Davis did it with firmness but kindness.
Scrooge was played by Jon Briggs, and his physicality was engaging as he lumbered about the stage trying to brush off his castmates as if they were troublesome gnats. He growled his songs and lines, which made him a truly surly miser from the start. But there was a tradeoff: some lines were unintelligible, even at close range. Briggs’s physicality allowed him to overcome this shortcoming, as it was never unclear how Scrooge felt about the action around him, and Briggs had fun breaking the fourth wall to tell people to pay their debts in act one and give out chocolate coins to children in act 2.
Perhaps the most striking production element was the dancing. Choreographer Becky Jeanne Knowles assembled a spectacular set of dance numbers. Festive couple dancing in the number “Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball” contrasted nicely with the animated zombielike dance of the song “Dancing on your Grave” that had shades of Wednesday Addams in it. Some numbers were simple featuring crisp formations, while others were freer and allowed the eyes to wander the stage on a myriad of interesting and engaging dance choices. Knowles put together a strong ensemble that featured multiple styles of dance in a cohesive way.
I similarly enjoyed the set pieces in the production. Casters allowed for quick set changes between scenes, and one particularly clever set piece was the door to Scrooge’s house. It appeared wooden at first, but was stretchy and soft allowing an actor to stick their face into it just the form visible as the ghost of Marley called out to Scrooge upon entering his home. That piece doubled as the graveyard panel that lit up to show Scrooge’s own name during his trip into the future with the ghost of Christmas yet to come. With the exception of a couple of small technical snafus, it was a tight and engaging show from start to finish.
Christmas is a complicated time of year for people. Some people need a firm reminder to not be an early story Scrooge, while others need the comfort of a merry Christmas. For some, holidays carry painful reminders or seasonal blues. For others, they are a time of hope, healing, forgiveness, and kindness. Whatever you feel this season, a little helping of Hopebox’s A Christmas Carol is a warm and welcoming production that will leave audiences with a reminder of the good one person can do. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and Happy Holidays to all. May your new year be a good one!