Regional Reviews: Phoenix
In case you need a refresher on the plot, Dickens' classic story from 1843 follows the selfish businessman Ebenezer Scrooge as he is impacted by visits from four spirits, his former business partner Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. 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 redemption, showing that it's never too late to change and that one person changing their life for the better can change the lives of those they touch for the better as well.
Ted Lehman's adaptation is very faithful to Dickens' novel and features many lines of dialogue and narration taken directly from the book. Dave Dietlein's adept direction of the large cast doesn't shirk the serious tone of the story and also ensures there are moments of humor throughout that help add depth to the characters and some comic relief from the dramatic thrust of the story. The creative elements include an abundance of stage magic, colorful period costumes, and lush lighting. Plus, there are some gorgeous Christmas carols sung by the ensemble under Lincoln Wright's music direction and choral master Charity Johansen. Cambrian James' choreography is bright and effective.
Rob Stuart's performance as Scrooge is incredibly moving. At first, Stuart uses a serious tone and gruff nature to depict this cruel, stingy, uncaring and unfeeling man. As Scrooge progresses throughout his journey, Stuart beautifully shows the changes Scrooge goes through due to the impact the spirits have on him. While there are some moments of comedy in his performance, Stuart is never too giddy or too broad with his humor and always has a hint of seriousness underneath, which provides believability, depth and shading in his portrayal. His accent is crisp and his cadence, tone and pacing are all exceptional. The end result is an especially impressive performance full of beauty, heart and emotion.
Many of the supporting performers in the Green Cast are repeating their performances from last season, including Tim Paul Fiscus, who infuses Cratchit with so much warmth and honesty that the scenes he has with Stuart and the ones he has with actors playing the Cratchit family are full of realistic emotion. As the ghosts, Matthew R. Harris and Heidi-Liz Johnson are returning as Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Past and both create memorable performances. Johnson also delivers a stirring and rich solo of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Justin M. Howell is fun and playful as Christmas Present, and Benjamin Harris is engaging and outgoing as Scrooge's happy-go-lucky nephew Fred.
The rest of the large cast play multiple parts with ease. Danny Karapetian is full of life, and also very playful, as one of the show's narrators but also appropriately matter of fact as the young, head-strong Scrooge. As Mrs. Cratchit, Bonnie Romney, who plays the role in the Red Cast but was subbing at the performance I attended for an incapacitated Laura Soldan, creates a realistic woman and mother who is both hardworking and full of warmth. Haley Reed is lovely but also firm and direct as the young Scrooge's fiancée Belle, and Raymond Barcelo and Charity Johansen are playful as the joyous Fezziwigs. Their performance with the ensemble of "Candlelight Choral" is simply beautiful. In smaller parts, Nathan Spector and Holly Payne are hilarious as two of Fred's friends, and Allan DeWitt and Ariana Mai Lucius provide a few moments of humor and heart.
Charles Dickens' classic story is one that is beloved by many and one that just about everyone can relate towe all have done something in our past that we regret and seek redemption for. Hale Centre Theatre's production is chock full of impressive creative elements and a very gifted cast. It's full of magic and moving moments, a very good stage adaptation that shows how powerful and relevant Dickens' story and characters still are, 175 years after the story was first published. It's easy to see why Hale's production sells out year after year.
A Christmas Carol, through December 24, 2018, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling 480-497-1181
Directed by David Dietlein