PROVO — It's "A Christmas Carol" like no other, according to the director.
A veteran of local theater, Buddy Youngreen is the director of the production at Provo's Heritage School, a residential treatment center for at-risk youths. He helps stage major productions with kids who — for the most part — have never acted or sung or danced in public before.
"The goal is to have the kids succeed," Youngreen said. "I've worked it out so they can.
Students have a variety of mental, physical and emotional challenges when they come to Heritage, and to be in the shows they must pledge to keep their grades up, behave well and show up consistently to rehearsals (which are scheduled for four nights a week, three hours a stint, for three months before opening night).
The actors try out for their parts and Youngreen makes a place for everyone who wants to be included. There are 34 youths in this year's show.
The lead in "A Christmas Carol" is Cory Gibson, a 17-year-old who plays Scrooge.
He's happy with his role and really enjoys working with 6-year-old Lochlan Lazerson, who plays Tiny Tim.
This is not Gibson's first time in a lead role. He was Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" at Heritage last year. He's been Edward Scissorhands and Michael Jackson in other residential-home programs.
"I'm comfortable," he said. "I love the stage. I've done a lot of stuff."
He'd like to play Chino in "West Side Story" before he graduates from Heritage.
Youngreen said Gibson is a quick study, "one of the best actors I've ever had. He learns his lines from the blocking. His recall is incredible. He amazes me."
Gibson said the plays teach lessons about life, especially to teenagers who have been in trouble often and are trying to figure out who they are.
"It teaches that no matter how bad a person's act, even if you think it is just unforgivable, you can make it right," he said. "You have to go for that second chance. You don't need a ghost like Scrooge."
Gibson said he thinks Ebenezer Scrooge is lucky to have discovered he can be better.
Lauren Heusler, 16, plays the young Scrooge's love interest. She was pulled in to replace another actor who, on her doctor's advice, had to opt out.
Heusler said she doesn't mind being drafted at the last minute into a part with a solo and several lines. She likes the role of young Belle and enjoys being part of the cast family.
"That's my favorite part," she said. "You get to know everyone super-well and see a whole different person."
Youngreen's adaptation will "be a little different," he said. For instance, he has a girl from South England introduce the story because her British accent lends an interesting edge to her words.
As a curtain call, everyone joins to sing "A Second Chance."
Youngreen said he recognizes he is being asked to do more than just put on a show. He knows every cast member is dealing with challenges that they have to set aside to focus on their parts.
"Because of the nature of theater, they learn. They really shine in front of an audience," Youngreen said. "It amazes me."
McKaye Treanor, development director for the school, said grants and donations pay the costs of producing the shows, which include paying a professional costumer, choreographer, musical director and director.
Youngreen said he enjoys the youths and the opportunity to make a difference in their lives. He stresses to his cast that "symbolically, this play is your life," because in reality, "all the world is a stage."
If you go:
What: "A Christmas Carol"
Where: Loveland Performing Arts Center, Heritage School, 5600 N. Heritage School Drive (250 West), Provo
When: 7 p.m., Dec. 13, 14 and 16 (dress rehearsal Dec. 12)
Cost: $7, $8 and $10, call 801-226-4695