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Backstage at Hale Centre Theatre's 'A Tale of Two Cities'

Thursday February 24, 2011

The regional premiere of Jill Santoriello's musical adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities, now onstage at Hale Centre Theatre, may be the most technically ambitious production to date at a theater known for technically ambitious productions.

Technical Director Kacey Udy and his team have created a multilevel, rotating set that morphs into 40 different "locations," complete with compressed cardboard cobblestones, a flying aluminum bridge covered with glue and paint to look like wood, and a stage floor made from a disassembled old barn.

In addition, Costume Designer Jolene Ashcraft and Hale's costume teams have created 120 costumes and 87 wigs for the show, which features two different casts of 25 actors each. "There's kind of an unspoken competition between us," Ashcraft said. "The set design team and the costume design team always try to outdo each other."

The show's costumes were painstakingly designed and sewn, then beaten, soiled and distressed to befit 18th century French peasants. Every custom wig is hand tied in the front to match the actor's natural hairline. Each one requires about 20 hours of painstaking work to complete.

Hale Centre Theatre's rotating, multi-level stage is one of only a few of its type in the world. The stage is raised and lowered using a Slinky-like spiral lift system, and set pieces are moved using winches that are electronically controlled to move precisely at the touch of a button. The complete stage is more than five stories high from the base of the lift system to the top of the catwalks, but the performance space is intimate, seating about 600 audience members per show. Rather than viewing the small space as a limitation, theater staffers try to take advantage of its strengths. "We embrace the small space," Udy said. "We love how intimate things are."

Because the audience surrounds the stage, there are no curtains to hide the show's mechanics, and because spectators are close to the action, they notice every detail. "The audience sees everything," Udy said. "The smallest details have to be right, or the spectators will let us know."

A Tale of Two Cities continues now through April 9 at Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive (2200 W.) in West Valley City. For tickets, visit their website or call 801-984-9000.

Photo: Technical Director Kacey Udy demonstrates the multi-level, rotating stage at Hale Centre Theatre. By Marsha Maxwell.

Read more from Marsha Maxwell at http://saltlakecity.about.com.