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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Bah humbugs abound: “A Christmas Carol” on five Valley stages

From left: Alex Gonzalez, Diane Senffner, Ollie Clark, Janine Smith, Peter Hill, Henry Male, Nick Buchanan, Leslie Haddad, Michael Wallot and Cliff Alfrey star in “Inspecting Carol” at Fountain Hills Theater. Photo courtesy of Fountain Hills Theater.

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a perennial holiday favorite, and there is no shortage of opportunities to see it in Valley theaters this month — whether in traditional form or with a new twist on the classic tale.

For the 15th consecutive year, Gilbert’s Hale Centre Theatre will present a heart-warming version of the holiday story of redemption Nov. 30-Dec. 23.

“Hale Theatre’s production will always stay true to Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel,” says director David Dietlein, adding that this year’s show “will be full of traditional Christmas carols [woven] into the story with melodious singers, talented actors, beautiful costumes, and elaborate sets.”

Fox 10 meteorologist Cory McCloskey makes his fourth appearance as Ebenezer Scrooge in the classic Hale Centre Theatre production. Photo courtesy of Hale.

Dietlein is the owner, artistic director and president of Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert and has directed every presentation of “A Christmas Carol” since the theater opened in 2003. He notes that the show “truly has something for everyone,” including “some lighthearted moments and some fantastic special effects.”

In addition to plenty of ghostly effects, audiences leaving the theater (while being greeted by Victorian carolers) may well find themselves brushing snow from their shoulders. Aiding in the special effects are 15 robotic lights, pyrotechnics, seven haze and smoke machines, two snow machines, two fog machines, two ghost trick effects and eight gobo rotators creating special-effect patterns.

Also making the Hale presentation special are more than 177 custom-made Victorian costumes, authentic Victorian carols with an acapella quartet featured throughout the show and a 360-degree Victorian village that wraps around the entire stage. 

This year’s 51 performances feature two separate casts of veteran singers and actors, including Cory McCloskey in his fourth appearance as Ebenezer Scrooge. The Fox 10 meteorologist is a veteran of the stage and television who has performed from New York to Washington in such roles as the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” and NBC’s “Another World.” Also reprising his role as Scrooge for Hale is Mark Kleinman, who won the ariZoni Award for Best Actor for his role in “South Pacific” at the Hale. 

“The beauty of ‘A Christmas Carol’ is that it has something we can all relate to,” says Dietlein. “We all need a second chance in life, and it’s never too late to change. This show gives us an opportunity to step back and evaluate our lives. We can leave the theater with a renewed interest in helping people around us who have many needs. A story like this is greatly needed in today’s world.”

While the Hale definitely considers this a family show, please note that children under age 5 will not be admitted.

“Inspecting Carol”

Nov. 30-Dec. 24, Fountain Hills Theater adds a new twist by presenting an original adaptation, “A Christmas Carol: The Musical,” written by Fountain Hills artistic director Peter J. Hill, along with another show entitled “Inspecting Carol,” by Daniel J. Sullivan.

“FHT’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a faithful retelling of the Dickens classic with some added humor and, of course, delightful — and occasionally touching — songs that enhance the story and bring the characters to exuberant life,” says Hill.

“Inspecting Carol” has a different take altogether. A regional theater company rehearsing its annual production of “A Christmas Carol” finds itself beset by problems. First, it gets news of the impending arrival of an inspector from the National Endowment for the Arts to review the theater’s work. Then the actor playing Tiny Tim accepts a better offer, and an aspiring actor there to audition is mistaken for the inspector and given the part, despite his questionable talent. Naturally, chaos ensues.

Hill adds that “Fountain Hills productions are always fun, but ‘A Christmas Carol’ especially. The theater itself is small and the seats so wonderfully situated so audiences experience FHT shows with an intimacy that is lost in larger auditoriums. Seeing the story of Scrooge’s redemption when you are practically part of the action makes ‘A Christmas Carol’ especially memorable.”

What does he want audiences to take away? “We hope everyone leaves the show with a renewed sense of joy and a lighter load during the stress of the holiday season.”

One-woman tour-de-force

Katie McFadzen performs a one-woman tour-de-force of the classic Dickens story at Tempe Center for the Arts. Photo by John Groseclose, courtesy of Childsplay.

Dec. 1-24 at Tempe Center for the Arts, Childsplay presents “A Christmas Carol with Katie McFadzen.” The show is recommended for ages 9 and up. A celebrated Valley actress, McFadzen will perform a one-woman tour-de-force of the classic Dickens story, which she, along with local director Matthew Wiener, adapted for the stage.

“The show is 80 minutes of nonstop speaking,” says McFadzen. “So I know that once I start, there’s no stopping until I say those final words: ‘God bless us everyone.’ It’s kind of like getting buckled into a roller-coaster seat knowing you’re in for a wild ride and you can’t turn back!”

She and Wiener began with the book by Dickens. “Matthew was already very familiar with the story because he directed a large-scale production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ for 19 years at Actors Theatre,” says McFadzen. “During the rehearsal process, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to best communicate the different characters and how to effectively give the illusion of two or more characters having conversations with one another.”

Even though Childplay’s version of “A Christmas Carol” is a one-woman show, Wiener insists that it doesn’t differ much from the classic tale. “In fact,” he says, “this version may be closer to the original, in many ways, than so many of the musical adaptations that flood our stages at this time of year.”

He notes that Charles Dickens successfully toured England and the United States giving “readings” of “A Christmas Carol” and that he “acted out” the story for his audiences. “We have taken the same storytelling impulse as Mr. Dickens had and grown the theatrical vocabulary a bit to fit better in Tempe Center for the Arts. But it’s all Dickens, all the time.”

He believes there’s a good reason “A Christmas Carol” is one of Dickens’ most beloved and most adapted stories. “It has a universal theme that ‘change is possible,’ which has always been a powerful idea — and perhaps needed today more than it has been in a while. We want the audience to leave having gone through a journey with Scrooge and knowing that if he can change his own life and in doing so change the lives of those around him, so can they!”

His parting shot? “You haven’t seen ‘A Christmas Carol’ until you’ve seen Katie McFadzen do it. She is magnificent!”

A ghost story

Dec. 8-24, Peoria’s Theater Works resurrects its production of “A Christmas Carol,” an original work commissioned by the theater and adapted from Dickens by Richard Powers Hardt. It is directed by Chris Hamby, producing artistic director for Theater Works.

Even though Theater Works has presented the show before, be assured it won’t be the same. The holiday classic promises expansive new designs and lots of stage magic, though still filled with such cherished characters as Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, and of course, the familiar old miser Scrooge on his journey of self-redemption.

What makes the show such an enduring favorite year after year? “Redemption tales like ‘A Christmas Carol’ help us to realize that it’s never too late to make a difference, and we all can be a catalyst in change if we begin with ourselves,” says Hamby. “Scrooge is the perfect example.”

“When Charles Dickens wrote ‘A Christmas Carol,’ he did not consider it a Christmas story, but a ghost story,” Hamby says. “One of the things I tried to capture with the show is the feeling that we are talking about a man who is haunted here not just by ghosts, but by his own avarice and indifference toward others.”

Hardt adds that Scrooge’s “versions of early life are not about everyday regrets; they are regrets so deep and terrible that his denial of them has robbed him of his soul. … This isn’t a lighthearted tale of redemption. It’s a terrifying experience.”

But though not lighthearted, the show is still a tale of redemption. “My hope is our audiences will leave feeling the message of giving and change at this time of year,” says Hamby. “One person can make a difference.”

Valley theaters stage “A Christmas Carol”

Fountain Hills: Fountain Hills Theater presents “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” on even dates, “Inspecting Carol” on odd dates Nov. 30-Dec. 24. 2 p.m. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd., Fountain Hills. “A Christmas Carol: The Musical ” $30, $23 youth; “Inspecting Carol” $25, $18 youth. 480-837-9661 or fhtaz.org

Gilbert: Hale Centre Theatre presents “A Christmas Carol” Nov. 30-Dec. 23. 

Peoria: Theater Works presents “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 8-24. 

Phoenix: Herberger Theater Center and Arizona Broadway Theatre present “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” Dec. 9-28.

Tempe: Childsplay presents “A Christmas Carol with Katie McFadzen” Dec. 1-24.

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Doris Nehrbass

Doris Nehrbass, of Peoria, is a freelance writer, editor and proofreader.

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