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‘Coal Country Christmas Carol’ returns to Jim Thorpe

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    “Church Lady,” Rebecca Hawk rehearses her lines with stage director Bill Lance for Saturday’s performance. KELLEY ANDRADE/TIMES NEWS

Published December 22. 2017 12:16PM

This Saturday, “A Coal Country Christmas Carol” will return to the historic Mauch Chunk Museum in Jim Thorpe.

The Joseph Hiatt adaptation of Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol,” turns the classic into a coal region narrative, transporting Scrooge, Marley, Tiny Tim and the rest of the well-known cast into the 19th century.

The play, sponsored by the Mauch Chunk Charity Foundation, includes a spirited cast of local actors and features a live soundtrack of vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar, upright bass and the haunting sounds of the saw, performed by Free Range Folk.

“The ‘Canary Song’ is a poem written by David Price and put to music by Kevin Ruch. It underscores the March of the Breaker Boys and Dance of the Silk Mill Girls, played by young people of Carbon County,” Hiatt said.

“Charles Dickens is one of my all-time favorite writers,” Hiatt said.

Hiatt said he “couldn’t imagine improving upon such a wonderful story,” while he worked to incorporate local history into the well-known tale.

“I took what inspired me about Dickens’ Christmas treasure and combined it with some of the most compelling types of people who once lived in the Pennsylvania coal region to create an original story that is both an homage to Dickens and a celebration of some of our country’s own characters: coal barons, breaker boys, silk mill girls and the like.”

For this year’s rendition, stage director and “Scrooge” himself Bill Lance has brought the show to floor level to create an intimate and inclusive setting in the stained-glass ballroom.

“Once the performance happens, it becomes clear there is a journey, a community, a town in the story and suddenly you are a part of it. The challenging areas of traditional theater are adapted by placing the band and different actors on levels in the space rather than ‘set pieces’ there are moments when it feels like Scrooge is being addressed in the court of ‘life’ you could say,” Hiatt said.

After taking a hiatus from the production, Hiatt was influenced to revive the play this year.

“Over the course of the year, many people have requested the return. But one woman actually brought it up and put it in a different perspective for me, saying the reason people missed the show was that it had become a community touchstone. It is a moment during the holidays where musicians, performers and storytellers had the chance to come together and remind ourselves what the season is about,” he said.

“I realized then, it wasn’t ‘our’ show after all, but a show that belongs to everyone,” Hiatt said.

“The whole piece is a creation of everyone. Even this adaptation generally written by me, it had beautiful input and whole parts contributed by Michael Newton of Lehighton, Bill Lance, Dave Holmes and others. So really, it belongs to the community at large.”

According to Mark Donnelly, one of the six trustees on the foundation’s board, “Bill and Joe approached me about wanting to put the play on again but only if the money went to a charity.”

Donnelly said Family Promise was top on the list of donation ideas.

The homeless assistance program, Family Promise of Carbon County, forms a network working with churches and nonprofits to host homeless families for one-week intervals.

Family Promise of Carbon County is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that began serving the homeless and poverty-stricken in 2011.

“We wanted to do this show purposely this year as a benefit that would help address some of the needs in our own community,” Hiatt said.

A basket raffle along with a 50/50 will take place Saturday along with a boilo, wine and beer cash bar.

The Mauch Chunk Charity Foundation has raised more than $13,000 with an organized golf tournament for three years, donating to the Lehigh Valley MS Walk, the local Shriners chapter and creating a scholarship in memory of a student-athlete.

“It started at my kitchen table and now it’s around the booth at UPH,” Donnelly said.

“We kept raising more and more money so we decided to branch out,” he said.

Donnelly said all proceeds raised will go directly to the Family Promise, “Every cent.”

For more information on Family Promise, visit www.familypromisecarboncounty.org.

Doors open at the 41 W. Broadway, Jim Thorpe location at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets for the event can be purchased for $20 at the door or in advance at Union Publick House at 212 Center St. in Jim Thorpe.

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