It’s been a belt-tightening year for many in the Flathead, and Kalispell’s Christian Center church is no exception. But, according to its energetic congregation, that doesn’t mean they can’t ring in the holidays with one of the best theatrical shows in the valley.
The Christian Center is well known for its holiday stage productions, which are often large-scale and professionally polished. This year, the cast and crew take on “The Christmas Post,” the wholesome, musical story of Alice Garfield, a single mother trying to make ends meet during the holidays by taking up a job in the toy department of Herzog’s Department store.
There are eight performances scheduled: Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.
Though the show is free, audience members are encouraged to get tickets to ensure everyone has a seat. Tickets can be found at Christian Center, The Bookshelf in Kalispell, Grateful Bread in Bigfork and all Montana Coffee Traders locations.
Veteran director Sean Morgan said “The Christmas Post” was not initially the first choice for this season’s performance, but he and the rest of the selection committee came around to the idea once they decided to rewrite parts of Deborah Craig-Claar and Robert Sterling’s script for added depth.
“It was important to me that the audience cared something for the characters,” Morgan said.
This year is Morgan’s 30th year working with church Christmas plays, but his holiday theatrical resume dates back to 1957. “The Christmas Post” is his 17th production at the Christian Center.
Morgan and the rest of the committee began preparing for this production back in February, he said, and he is confident they have a high-quality play ready for the public.
Part of the reason the seats are filled every year is the level of professionalism that sets Christian Center productions above traditional Christmas shows, said Steve Morgan, who plays the role of Brother Sam and is not related to Sean Morgan.
“The level of experience and fun is remarkable,” Steve Morgan said. “It’s not ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’”
In his fourth production this year, Steve Morgan said he enjoys acting and singing, but he also likes being part of a message of hope for people who may be having a tough go this winter.
“It’s kind of neat that the focus is trying to put something back in the community,” he said.
Krista VanHeldan, playing the lead role of Alice Garfield, agreed, saying she liked the depth her character offers the audience.
“It was really important for us to make her character relatable to the people sitting in the pews,” she said.
The audience will be able to see their own struggles mirrored in the play, she said, like dealing with troubled relationships, tested faith and the trials of raising children.
“For us and for me, this is what the Christmas season is all about,” VanHeldan said, “just to try to bring hope to the people.”
Sean Morgan, who also plays the role of Denny McGee, noted that the play has had its share of trials this year as well. A down economy means tighter budgets for most valley residents, which means a smaller budget for the church.
There is a constant struggle to maintain a high-quality performance while simultaneously cutting back, he said, but the answer lies in being creative.
“When we cut back we have found other ways to offset it,” Morgan said. “The goal is even though we’ve had to cut back this year, the audience won’t know it.”
As it has been in past years, the set is intricate and extensive. They will not be using the rotating floor system, which resembles a turntable, to change sets this year because it would have added cost, Morgan said.
Instead, the church built a set that, with a few turns of some windows and a sign, can function as either the inside or exterior of a department store.
But Morgan said the passion for the project has remained as strong as it has been in past years. And since each show is free, he invited anyone to check out a show and expects visitors from all over the valley and state to do so.
“This is our gift to the Flathead Valley and beyond,” Morgan said. “They will leave here having had a positive experience and therefore they will feel welcomed to come back.”
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