People hurry across the cobblestone streets, waving to friends, smiling at a neighbor as they pass. A hissing coal fire warms the otherwise bleak lane, hugged by snow-peaked brownstones and a bruised London sky. Big Ben towers on the horizon: ever watchful, ever keeping — the time until the play begins at Gilbert’s Hale Centre Theatre. It’s opening night of “A Christmas Carol” and the stage lights are beginning to dim.
The small theater is packed. Young couples on a date, families with two rows of kids, grandparents and grandkids fill the stadium-style seats surrounding the stage. There is an air of happy excitement as everyone settles in for the show.
“People come from all over,” said Dorman Smith, who has played Scrooge in Hale’s production for the past nine years. It’s become a family tradition for a lot of people, he said. “You see a lot of recognizable faces each year. At first parents come and then they come back and bring their kids. It jump starts Christmas for them.”
Although the show runs throughout December, the shows sell out quickly, with many people landing on a long waiting list. “That’s the reason we’re doing double casts this year,” said Smith.
In addition to allowing more people to see the show, the double casting also allows more actors, like AriZoni winner Mark Kleinman, to perform. Since playing Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, in a New York City production of “A Christmas Carol” many years ago, Kleinman has aspired to play the miserly old banker.
“I’ve always wanted to play Scrooge,” said the Mesa resident, whose daughter, Jocelyn, is also in the production. “I’ve been enthused about it forever,” he said. “I love the story, of course, but I’m just now getting into the age range (to play the part).”
Rob Stuart, who plays family-man Bob Cratchit alongside Kleinman’s Scrooge, is in the role for the first time. He most recently starred as Atticus Finch in Hale’s production of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” for which he won an AriZoni award. Stuart said that playing Cratchit is not as much pressure as playing Atticus Finch — played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film.
“I think people come in not knowing what Bob is like, so I have a little more freedom.”
Richard Enriquez of Chandler is playing Cratchit opposite Smith for the third year in a row. He enjoys playing the father of a large, loving family because it is something he has not been able to experience in real life.
“It’s a great feeling of family and togetherness, a very warm, fatherly feeling.” Enriquez said. “I’m not a father myself. My wife died before we had the chance,” he said.
Not only is his role familial, but Enriquez said that the cast members and the theater itself operates like a big family.
“These casts are tightly knit and we get along well together,” said Enriquez. “This is a first time for this show to have two casts. We worked together and learned things from one another,” he said.
Though he has performed at other community theater around the Valley, Hale Centre Theatre is Enriquez’s favorite place to perform. “For one thing, they’ve got a really nice technical side: the sound system, the lighting, the people who put together the sets do an awesome job,” he said. “The theater is also very nice to be in — the ushers and house managers make you feel at home. I enjoy that,” he said.
Thursday’s audience seemed to enjoy it as well.
Mandy Tollison, in attendance with her husband and children for the first time, really liked the show. “The kids are loving it,” she said.
Brad Lindley, of Gilbert, sitting in the first and second rows with his family, agreed. “I really like the intimacy of it,” said Lindley.
Shawna McDermott, of Colorado, in town to see her mother, attended the show with her 4-year-old granddaughter, Ella McDonald. “I thought for sure Ella would be scared when Marley came in,” McDermott said. “It didn’t bother her at all. I really liked it. It’s a great family show.”
IF YOU GO
What: “A Christmas Carol,” directed by Dave Dietlein.
When: 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3; runs Mondays through Saturdays through Dec. 24.
Where: Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Ave., Gilbert.
Cost: $20-$32 for adults; $10-$32 for youth ages 5-18.
Information: (480) 497-1181 or www.haletheatrearizona.com.
Contact writer: (480) 898-5629 or email@example.com