Robert Peterson enjoys role in `Gift of Christmas'

Robert Peterson has a long history with Promised Valley Productions.

The man who once starred in the Broadway production of "Camelot" - understudying and later replacing Robert Goulet - returned to Utah in the late 1960s to star in the musical "Promised Valley" at the temporary, outdoor Temple View Theater, east of Temple Square.Then 25 years ago, in 1972, he starred in the first production of the show performed in Promised Valley Playhouse, which was named after the musical.

Today he continues his long involvement with Church-related productions by filling the principal role, for the seventh straight season, in a Promised Valley Production yuletide tradition - "The Gift of Christmas."

During what would have been the 25th season of Church productions in Promised Valley Playhouse, Brother Peterson says he misses performing "The Gift of Christmas" in the Church theater - which was closed last January due to structural concerns. The production will run this year Tuesdays through Saturdays until Dec. 31 in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah.

"This is an intimate story we tell," he said. "[Promised Valley Playhouse] had such a wonderful feeling."

During a Church News interview, Brother Peterson talked about the changes that have taken place in the script of "The Gift of Christmas" - making it better and better - over the last seven years.

He noted the role of his character in the production, the innkeeper who turned Joseph and Mary away, has changed so the audience can see him take a definite journey - see him come unto Christ.

"It is satisfying to play a character as an actor and see it change and develop," he said.

In the production, Brother Peterson also plays Ebenezer Scrooge, a character from Charles Dickens' 19th Century London. He sees a parallel between Scrooge and the innkeeper - who both change for the better.

There is one reason, he explained, that he continues to do the same show every Christmas season: "The show is so good."

He also enjoys the atmosphere he finds while working with Promised Valley Productions. "It is wonderful to start and end rehearsals in prayer," he said. "Prayer brings you together. It gives you confidence."

Promised Valley Productions officials say this may be the last year they put on "The Gift of Christmas." They are currently looking for an effective Christmas production to replace it that will have its same appeal.

"That is not going to be easy," noted Brother Peterson, "because this is a very good show. There are not very many production like this that can stand to be reproduced every year."

He said he has no idea if he will be involved with future Church productions, but hopes he can be. Promised Valley Productions attracts a wonderful mix of both amateur and professional performers, he said.

"I become partly teacher while I am performing - that is always rewarding."

However, for now his sights are set on this season's production - which opened Dec. 12. He loves his role as the innkeeper and enjoys the opportunity to enact the part of Scrooge.

"My wife says, `Isn't it great that you have a role where you can just get up there and be yourself,' " he said.

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