'A Christmas Carol' with HART

Holiday classic comes to Haywood
By Stina Sieg | Nov 30, 2012
Photo by: Stina Sieg "A Christmas Carol," starring nearly 40 actors from across Western North Carolina, opens this Friday at HART.

What says “A Christmas Carol” to you?

Is it Charles Dickens’ original novella dating all the way back to 1843? Is it the Muppets singing their way through the holiday tale? Or is it the version with Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, The Flintstones, Jim Carrey — or even Kelsey Grammer?

No matter your answer, it might change this week when Haywood Arts Regional Theatre adds its rendition to the mix. It’s simply time for a new, local version, or so says Scrooge, also known as HART Executive Director Steve Lloyd.

“It is the classic thing for a theater to do,” he said during a recent rehearsal.

This story, which tells of an old miser learning the true meaning of Christmas through ghostly visits and some dearly needed self-reflection, is so classic that HART actually did do it more than 20 years ago — and quickly swore it off.

“There were some mishaps that occurred during that production that made us decide we never wanted to do it again,” Lloyd said, smiling and breaking with his curmudgeonly character.

Most notably, an incorrect sound effect was played, which turned a tender moment into a seemingly violent one when the audio of bells was replaced by gunfire.

“And that seemed to be a pretty good indication that we just needed to let this go,” Lloyd joked.

But they’re roaring back now. With nearly 40 people in the cast, plus a nine-piece orchestra and tons of low-tech but convincing special effects, this show is put together almost like a movie. While it’s no musical, music does punctuate every scene, and a good bit of caroling heightens the Christmasy feel. All of these elements blend together to bring its audience to the same, deceptively simple conclusion Dickens reached back in the Victorian era: Money can’t buy happiness.

We live in such a commercial time, “and this story doesn’t dismiss that,” Lloyd said, “but it reminds you that the buying of stuff is not where the value is. It’s the people that you’re buying the stuff for.

And that’s only one of the layers. Director Mark Jones, who gave the script a facelift while maintaining the original dialogue, likes the play’s karmic aspect. The longtime devotee of the show explained that in all of the many versions he’s seen (the Muppets’ being one of his favorites), he’s taken home the same message.

It’s about “learning from your past to make your future better and your life better,” he said.

One might think this theme would get old after being told and retold, but Jones believes he’s kept it fresh this time around. There’s no quirky twist to this version, and Jones was very adamant about that, but he also made sure to arrange Dickens’ words in a way he felt might punch up the piece. Laid out more like a musical than a typical drama, and simplified in spots for all ages, this “Carol” is meant to feel both new and traditional.

“This is not a version you’ve seen before,” Jones promised.

That’s big talk, but he’s not the only one who feels confident about it. Asheville local Anne Rhymer Schwabland, the show’s musical director, couldn’t say enough lovely things about the piece, which she called a “joy” to score. This is her favorite Christmas tale, she explained, and the soundtrack is her “own personal love letter” to the season.

“I hope it will make people happy,” she said.

She also hopes her notes, which meld recognizable holiday tunes and original music, help drive home one of her favorite themes from the play.

In her words, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Lloyd takes this message seriously — both as Scrooge and as the head of a small-town community theater. He stressed that he’s not creating this show to be a one-off, two-week event. He wants “A Christmas Carol” to become a full-fledged Christmas tradition in Haywood County. He wants to see it grow and change and draw people to town in these festive, wintry months.

This is not just an opportunity for him and the cast, he believes, but almost a duty to this theater-loving community. After all, HART is known for its enviable auditorium, dedicated actors and loyal following.

“If we’ve got this, why don’t we take advantage of this, actually do something with it?” he said, smiling again and pausing for effect. “Like Scrooge with his money.”

“A Christmas Carol” will play at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 3 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 16 — with a special 2 p.m. matinee Dec. 15 (there will be two shows that day). All shows are at HART, 250 Pigeon St., in Waynesville. Tickets may be purchased by calling 456-6322.