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Seasonal stagings: Area theaters host holiday productions

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As Utah enters the holiday season, several area theater companies are offering shows to help audiences celebrate. Here is a list of several familiar favorites and never-before-seen productions taking place over the next few weeks. Please note that this list is not all-inclusive. Information about shows not listed may be sent to features@deseretnews.com for inclusion in the Deseret News’ theater listings.

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‘It Happened One Christmas’

Pioneer Theatre Company artistic director Karen Azenberg thought it was time for a change.

“There are only so many holiday shows out there, and we’ve done several of them,” she said. “We wanted something new, but we also wanted something that was personal to this community.”

Through collaboration between Azenberg and Kenneth Jones, who wrote last season’s “Alabama Story,” “It Happened One Christmas” was born.

“The premise of the story is we are in a theater in Salt Lake City, an abandoned theater,” Azenberg said. “And there’s a legend that every year on Christmas Eve, the spirits of all holiday shows past, since that theater opened in 1905, come together, and they put on a special holiday show for an empty theater. And if Santa Claus likes it, then he makes it snow in Salt Lake on Christmas.”

Azenberg said she took a “very, very informal poll” to make sure she included the “most important” elements people want to see in a holiday show.

“It has singing, it has dancing, it has spoken word, it has a little bit of a good seasonal message without it beating you over the head, it has kids, it has adults, it has … theater magic galore, and it is going to be beautiful to look at.”

Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City

When: Dec. 4-19

How much: $40-$62, prices increase by $5 on day of show

Phone: 801-581-6961

Web: pioneertheatre.org

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‘It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical’

“It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical” has “essentially the same” plot found in the 1946 Frank Capra film, said Michael Carrasco, who is directing the production opening this week at SCERA Center for the Arts.

“The difference is it’s a musical,” he said. “And the music is fantastic.”

The story opens with George Bailey on a bridge, about to jump to his death, when an angel named Clarence appears and allows George to see the impact his life has had on the world — and to change his mind about ending it.

Carrasco said that though the show has the Christmas spirit, it’s really about the value of each individual’s life.

“What we’re trying to convey with this message is that the life that we have — everyone — it is a precious gift, the greatest gift that you could have, even at Christmastime … and that you are meaningful.

“We touch so many people,” he added. “We’ll never know how we touch and how we affect those individuals.”

Where: SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 S. State, Orem

When: Dec. 4-19

How much: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and children ages 3-11, $6 for nonprofit groups of 20-plus when purchased in advance

Phone: 801-225-2787

Web: scera.org

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‘A Christmas Carol’

Hale Center Theater Orem is continuing its annual tradition of “A Christmas Carol” with Jerry Elison as director for the 10th year.

“I think it’s a very well-written adaptation of the story, and I’ve really enjoyed directing it,” Elison said. “I just think it tells the whole story very concisely and with a little bit of music, and it’s just very nicely done.”

One of Cody Hale’s original songs, “I Was a Boy,” particularly stands out to Elison, he said.

“Young Scrooge and old Scrooge sing together,” Elison said. “It’s so good. It’s so powerful. And then it ends with (Scrooge saying), ‘And now I’m a man.’ He says to the spirit, ‘Don’t show me any more. I can’t stand this. This is too hard.’ It’s a wonderful story.”

Elison said the show’s message is that “even if you’ve not led a good life, you can change” and that it “teaches the art of giving and not being afraid to give.”

The smaller size of the theater lends itself well to the production, Elison said.

“In that space, you really get the intimacy of it,” he said.

Where: Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 W. 400 North, Orem

When: Dec. 4-23

How much: $16-$22 for adults, $12-$16 for children ages 4-11

Phone: 801-226-8600

Web: haletheater.org

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‘A Fairly Potter Christmas Carol’

“Drawing on inspiration from the Harry Potter series as well as ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’” the Ziegfeld Theater’s website states, “we bring you a hysterical new Christmas musical that will both make you laugh and warm your heart.”

According to a news release, “When Dumbledore procrastinates getting a new Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher, he hires his longtime rival, Father Christmas (Santa!), and things at Hogwarts transform dramatically. Harry, who hates Christmas due to his difficult family history, wrestles with these changes, and it’s up to Ron and Hermione to bring their best friend back to his old self. Meanwhile, Voldemort, depressed with his unhealthy obsession with killing a teenage boy, plots to kidnap Father Christmas, take over Christmas, and then … the world!”

Where: The Ziegfeld Theater, 3934 S. Washington Blvd., Ogden

When: Dec. 4-23

How much: $20 for adults, $18 for students, seniors and children, with a $1 discount for tickets purchased online

Phone: 855-944-2787

Web: theziegfeldtheater.com

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‘A Christmas Carol’

John Sweeney has been involved with Hale Centre Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” for 14 of its 31 years, and this is his 12th year as director. He attributes the show’s longevity and success to its “truth to the original text of the story but also the fun that we have as a group in putting this show together.”

Sweeney said the show is about a man “redeeming his life once he realizes the errors of his ways.”

“What the ghosts allow Ebenezer Scrooge to do is reflect upon the things that he’s done in his past and in his present and … to then set out on a path of redemption and cause a change in his life so that he may serve others rather than just serving himself.”

Sweeney said the show’s message of redemption is applicable to everyone.

“We do have time and opportunity while we’re here on Earth to look at the things that we’ve done and to mend our ways and really be able to make a change in other people’s lives,” he said.

Where: Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City

When: Dec. 5-24

How much: $32-$35 for adults, $16 for children ages 5-11

Phone: 801-984-9000

Web: hct.org

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‘Babes in Toyland’

Addie Holman, director of “Babes in Toyland” at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, said the show is “the basic Toyland story that people know and love” but with a 1960s twist.

In this version of the story, 13-year-old Sam’s dad is away at war, and “she’s having a hard time dealing with that,” Holman said. Sam’s family hasn’t had a letter from him in a while, and though Christmas is approaching, she doesn’t feel like celebrating.

Then, “she goes to sleep on Christmas night and has this dream about Toyland,” Holman said. “She has this great adventure with all of the characters there. Christmas had been banned for them, and she helps them restore Christmas to Toyland. When she wakes up, she has this renewed hope for positivity in her life and that she’ll hear from her dad.”

Holman said the show carries the message to “never give up hope and to always strive to be the best you can be, and that you should be able to spread that Christmas spirit and love for your fellow man and mankind throughout the whole year.”

Where: CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, 525 N. 400 West, Centerville

When: Through Dec. 17

How much: $17-$22

Phone: 801-298-1302

Web: CPTUtah.org

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‘My Three Angels’

According to director Brian Wood, who also has a role in the production, “‘My Three Angels’ is about three convicts who are working as roofers for a family at Christmastime. They overhear some of their troubles and decide to help protect them and their business from an unscrupulous cousin and his nephew with the use of unconventional methods.”

Wood said the show carries a theme of hope.

“One of the character’s philosophy is that ‘everything will work out somehow,’ no matter how bad things might get,” Wood wrote in an email. “The convicts decide to help this family, who they had only just met, without receiving anything in return.”

Wood recommends “My Three Angels” to theatergoers because it’s both a comedy and a less familiar show.

“(Audiences) can be surprised by the plot as it unfolds rather than coming in knowing how it will all end before it starts,” he said.

Where: Heritage Theatre, 2505 S. Highway 89, Perry

When: Through Dec. 19

How much: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and children ages 4-12

Phone: 435-723-8392

Web: heritagetheatreutah.com

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‘Plaid Tidings’

This sequel to “Forever Plaid” is “filled with over 50 of your favorite songs,” according to information from the Empress Theatre. “It’s sure to be a family favorite and will have you in the jolly spirit by the end of Act 1.”

Where: Empress Theatre, 9104 W. 2700 South, Magna

When: Through Dec. 19

How much: $10

Phone: 801-347-7373

Web: empresstheatre.com

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‘Scrooge: A Christmas Carol’

Jacci Florence, director of “Scrooge: A Christmas Carol” at Terrace Plaza Playhouse, says the plot follows the same story as Charles Dickens’ classic novel, but that “while Scrooge is Scrooge … things are a little lighter in this version.”

Florence said the show, which is in its 24th year, is a “local favorite” that draws audiences “year after year.”

“A lot of people that don’t even step foot into a theater all year long, it’s a tradition (for them),” she said. “Even though they know the outcome, they know what the story is, they’re entertained through the whole show.”

Florence hopes those who watch the production will get the spirit of Christmas through what they feel and see Scrooge experience.

“This miserable old man was miserable in every aspect of his life, and then, after this night … with the spirits, hopefully, it changed his outlook in life, and not just about Christmas,” she said. “He changed his ways and was not miserable anymore, but a happy man.″

Where: Terrace Plaza Playhouse, 99 E. 4700 South, Ogden

When: Through Dec. 23

How much: $12-$14 for adults, $11-$13 for students and seniors, $9-$11 for children ages 12 and under

Phone: 801-393-0070

Web: terraceplayhouse.com

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‘The Grouch Who Stole Christmas’

For the parody-producing Off Broadway Theatre’s holiday production of “The Grouch Who Stole Christmas,” artistic director Eric Jensen said the theater decided to combine “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with a take on the Muppets of Sesame Street — with characters such as the Grouch, Bigger Bird, Kooky Monster and Elbow. But something was missing: a villain.

“We thought, ‘Who could be the bad guy in a Sesame Street-type plot?’” Jensen said. “And so Mr. Rogers is the bad guy in our show, and he comes out and he’s trying to take over Sesame Street so he can turn it into Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood Casino. And so he tricks them into signing away their properties, and he takes all of the signatures and keeps them in his house, and so the Grouch has to go back into Mr. Rogers’ house and steal Christmas back for all the people on Sesame Street.”

The show is for all ages and features 10-15 puppet characters, Jensen said.

“Visually, it’s absolutely stunning, and it’s just really, really funny,” he said. “If you have little ones that have a hard time maybe sitting through (other productions), this is something they will really, really enjoy. Plus, Santa Claus makes an appearance.”

Where: The Off Broadway Theatre, 272 S. Main, Salt Lake City

When: Through Dec. 26

How much: $16 for adults; $12 for students, seniors and military; $10 for children ages 2-12

Phone: 801-355-4628

Web: theobt.org

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‘Ebenezer Scrooge: His Nightmare Before Christmas’

According to a news release, Desert Star Playhouse’s “Ebenezer Scrooge: His Nightmare Before Christmas” answers the question of what happened to Scrooge after the events of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

“A vengeful Bob Cratchit wants to repay Scrooge for the years of misery he suffered,” the news release states. “With the help of his now corrupt son, a not-so-tiny-Tiny Tim, he plans to destroy Scrooge’s business. Scrooge’s long-lost love becomes an unwitting pawn in Cratchit’s evil plans. Now it’s up to the madcap Spirits of Christmas to once again visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve and save the day. Filled with music, wacky characters and heartfelt moments … this show is full of all the over-the-top humor you’ve come to expect from Desert Star along with plenty of comedic nods to all things Christmas.”

Where: Desert Star Playhouse, 4861 S. State, Murray

When: Through Jan. 2

How much: $22.95-24.95 for adults, $12.95 for children ages 11 and under

Phone: 801-266-2600

Web: desertstarplayhouse.com

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‘It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical’

Following the classic film’s screenplay, “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical” is a story about a man named George Bailey from Bedford Falls, New York, who learns about the value of a life.

George has lived in the same town for his whole life and had dreams for big things for his life, said director Karissa Young. “But as his life continues to go on, his dreams end up not being fulfilled the way he wants them to be, and so eventually he becomes discouraged and, despite all the good things in his life that he has going on, he ends up hitting rock bottom, and then he considers ending his life. But that’s when he’s saved by Clarence, who’s an angel that is sent to help him see what a truly wonderful life he really does have.”

Young said the show teaches the message that “we don’t have to wait to be happy, that despite whatever circumstances we may have or what circumstances we may be a part of, we can still see the many blessings that we have in our lives.”

Where: Brigham’s Playhouse, 25 N. 300 West Building C1, Washington

When: Through Jan. 2

How much: $23 for adults, $21 for seniors, $17 for children ages 5-17 or students with valid ID, $76 for family

Phone: 435-251-8000

Web: brighamsplayhouse.com

Email: rbrutsch@deseretnews.com