‘A Christmas Carol: On the Air’ catches the spirit on the radio
On Sunday, Oct. 30, 1938, before the invention of TV, the Mercury Group On the Air, led by the late Orson Wells, presented a radio drama based on H.G. Wells’ book "War of the Worlds."
The broadcast, presented in news-alert form, caused panic across the country because listeners really thought Martians were invading Earth.
When the Southern Utah University theatre department presents "A Christmas Carol: On the Air" at the Egyptian Theatre from Dec. 19 through Dec. 22, Park City audiences will not feel fear, but the spirit of the season, said Peter Sham, who wrote the production’s script and lyrics.
"We’ve had so many people come up and tell us what a wonderful show it is," Sham said during a phone call form Cedar City. "In fact, after one opening night, I noticed one of our leading women had her hand over her heart. I went to see what the problem was and she said, ‘Now Christmas is in (my heart).’"
"A Christmas Carol: On the Air," which is a fresh twist on the Charles Dickens short story, is the brainchild of Sham and composer Brian Carroll, who were both involved with Cedar City’s Tony Award-winning Shakespeare Festival.
The story revolves around the circumstances that surround a traveling company of actors and musicians who present live broadcasts of "A Christmas Carol" from town to town, Sham explained.
"Brad and I play Stu and Chick Wright who direct the troupe that includes three back-up singers called the Carolettes, who are like the Andrew Sisters," he said.
Sham’s character, Chick, is the troupe’s version of Scrooge.
"Chick wants out of the tour because he’s had it with traveling and just doesn’t want to do it anymore," Sham said. "Then things happen that help him find the real meaning of Christmas."
"A Christmas Carol: On the Air" premiered as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 2004 and ran through 2007.
"Brad had been directing at the festival for a number of years and I was one of his principal actors in several of his productions," Sham explained. "We had become good friends over several years and he had done a little writing and I had done the same."
In the summer of 2004, Sham suggested the two create a project together for the Shakespeare Festival.
"One of the challenges was that the festival closed at the end of October, so we needed something that we could perform that was half read and half memorized," Sham said. "That way, we would be able to cut the rehearsal time in half, and that’s how we stumbled upon the idea of making the production into a radio show."
Carroll had participated in some live-radio broadcasts and Sham thought it would be a great idea, because they could theoretically recruit some of the Shakespeare Festival bigwigs to perform as well.
When they approached festival founder Fred C. Adams to play the real Ebenezer Scrooge, he agreed.
"The concept also gave us new opportunities to write some fun songs for the Carolettes and add in commercial spots that promoted real sponsors," Sham said. "We also put in some game-show segments and read letters to listeners, you know the old-time radio show stuff that people used to hear before TV."
Sham and Carroll, who are known for creating the West End comedy "Lend Me a Tenor: the Musical," revived the production at SUU this year, because the two are artists teach at the school.
"We thought it would be a great production for the students to do, and it would give them a chance to work with Fred and a lot of the Shakespeare Festival people, which has a great affect on them," Sham said.
The team is looking forward to bringing the production, which includes more than 21 people, to Park City, he said.
"We’re all thrilled to the point of exhaustion, because we’re in the midst of final exams here, but it’s going to be a great time for us to be up there," Sham said. "We can’t wait to get out of town to arrive and get it set up."
Still, to get the show ready for the Egyptian Theatre, some adjustments needed to be made.
"The Egyptian has a smaller stage, which is unlike the Randall Theatre that is a 765-seat house," Sham said. "However, we didn’t have the original set in storage and we knew we were going to come to Park City, so we built a new stage to fit the Egyptian specifics, so it will be just perfect."
Another tailor-made detail is the newscasts throughout the broadcast contain local references.
"During the initial four-year run, we had to adjust the newscast segments and adding up-to-date topics," Sham said. "The challenge of performing in Park City is changing the local references from Cedar City to Park City. So, we had to find out the local stories that would connect with the Park City audience. So, I’ve been trying to get some of the inside scoops up there."
Sham said it is nice working with Carroll and Adams again.
"It’s always wonderful working with Fred, who is one of the great, legendary actors in the state," he said. "It’s also great to have the old team back together, because it kind of felt like we were without Christmas for several years."
The Southern Utah University theatre and dance department will present "A Christmas Carol: On the Air" Wednesday through Saturday, Dec. 19 through Dec. 22, at 7:30 p.m. An additional 4 p.m. matinee will be presented Dec. 22. Tickets range from $30 to $60 and available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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