Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre’s holiday show this year is the 27th Anniversary production of “A Christmas Carol, A Musical Ghost Story” which is an annual favorite. This version of this well known holiday tale was written by former NSMT artistic director, Jon Kimball which he adapted back in 1989. As Jon explains “A Christmas Carol” is a timeless story that still resonates with people of all ages and carries a message that is as genuine and poignant now as it was when it was first written back in 1843. This splendid musical version captures the true spirit and meaning of the holiday season for one and all.
David Coffee returns in triumph for his 24th time of playing Scrooge. Audiences have been lucky twice more this season by seeing David in “Beauty and the Beast” and “42nd Street” and as always are beyond thrilled that he is returning to this iconic role once again. Current artistic director Kevin Hill directs this year’s presentation of its favorite holiday show once again. The well known tale of curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by the ghosts of Jacob Marley, Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come who hope to change his destiny and to save his soul. Audiences are taken on a strange and magical journey with Scrooge that helps him regain his exuberance for the true meaning of Christmas once more. Bill spares no expense in bringing this splendid heartwarming tale to audiences for his eighth year. Kevin and his cast and crew delivers the goods with audiences leaping to their feet at the curtain call. They are moved to laughter and tears at all the appropriate moments. Bravo once again on a job very well done!
The special effects are even more dazzling and amazing. Kevin not only blocks and directs this show marvelously, he also choreographs it, too. He creates high energy dances that captivate the audience. Kevin has an adept eye for both comic and dramatic situations which brings out the best in his 26 member cast. Although there are many comic moments in the show, it is the pathos that captures your heart during the Christmas season, tugging on your heartstrings and bringing tears to your eyes when they happen. This is the definitive version of “A Christmas Carol” which should be seen by audiences of all ages. Musical director, Milton Granger conducts a magnificent ten piece orchestra and taught the talented cast the lush and beautiful harmonies of these Christmas with the choral effect being superb. David Coffee delivers a tour-de-force performance once again as this iconic character. He makes the part fresh and new each of the eight years I’ve seen this show at NSMT. David mines each layer of this character fabulously from start to finish. His comic moments include yelling at his nephew, Fred, his employee, Bob Cratchit, the almsmen and the carolers to shut up when they start to sing in his office. However it is the dramatic moments that will enthrall you thoroughly which include Fan’s death, the break up with Belle, the astonishing transformation sequence and most definitely the death of Tiny Tim with strong performances from the Cratchit family. These segments make you cry no matter how many times you have seen this version of the show whether it be your first time, eighth time or even more. David makes you believe in Scrooge’s reformation and embodies this character magnificently. Bravo on another outstanding job as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Tommy Labanaris returns to the Narrator role for the fourth year in a row. He recently played the lead in “Young Frankenstein” at NSMT, displaying he can handle a farcical role, too. He displays his strong voice in the opening number and in the emotionally draining “Little Child” song during the death of Tiny Tim. He and the incomparable Leigh Barrett sing this song and there isn’t a dry eye in the entire audience. Two acrobatic dancers called the Pearlies are played fantastically by Will Geary and Brad Trump. They do incredible tumbling, somersaults, ballet movements while sprinkling magical dust throughout London, spooking Mrs. Dilbur, transporting Scrooge and the other ghosts through town. Freddie Kimmel is frightening as Jacob Marley as he flies overhead. Marley hovers over the audience while warning Scrooge to change his ways. The special effects of pyrotechnics are by Atlas Fireworks and the flying effects are by ZFX.
The three ghosts are lead by Leigh Barrett as Christmas Past. It is her seventh year with this musical and she makes each role fresh and new with each performance. I reviewed her as Momma Rose this past September and she was a force to be reckoned with in that show, too. Leigh is a striking red head who wears a high head piece as the ghost and she displays a gorgeous soprano voice in her opening number “A Dream within a Dream.” She chides Scrooge during the Fan segment and the Fezziwig scene when he used to enjoy Christmas. Emilia Tagliani plays Fan and Asher Navisky plays Boy Scrooge where we learn Fan died in childbirth. Ryan Mardesich plays Young Scrooge while Joy Clark plays Belle. They shine in their roles especially the breakup segment. I last reviewed Ryan as Perchik in “Fiddler on the Roof” which ended on January 1 of this year. Also Ryan and Joy are dating in real life!
Peter Adams returns in triumph for his fourth year as Christmas Present. He towers over everyone while on stilts. Peter has a phenomenal tenor voice which soars in “The Boar’s Head Carol” and in “The Gloucestershire Carol.” Ryan also plays Christmas Yet to Come and transforms himself into a statue of Young Scrooge during the transformation scene. The biggest scene stealer in this show is Cheryl McMahon as Mrs. Dilbur and Mrs. Fezziwig. Some of her comic moments as Dilbur occur when she’s scared by the Pearlies with a flying blanket, Scrooge’s coat and hat being thrown at her, holding a crucifix when he acts wacky on Christmas Day and when she and Scrooge blow kisses to each other from the open window. Cheryl also sings “Isn’t It Grand, Boys”, a bawdy and naughty song about Scrooge being dead. She also does an energetic polka with J.T. Turner as her jolly husband. These two roles are some of the best and she’s been portraying them for 24 years. I last reviewed her as Eulalie in “The Music Man” earlier this season.
Andrew Tighe returns this year to play a different role, that of Fred, Scrooge’s nephew. He is tall, blond and handsome and displays his strong tenor voice with Lianne Gennaco who plays Meg and has a terrific soprano voice. Their song is “Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day” where Lianne’s voice soars up to a high G. Last year she appeared on Broadway in “Candide.”Andrew also has some comic moments in the opening when he encourages the young carolers to annoy his cantankerous uncle and in the present when he describes his uncle’s bad behavior to her party guests.
The Cratchit family shine in their roles. Russell Garrett and Leigh Barrett return for their seventh year as Bob and Mrs. Cratchit. They handle their comic and dramatic moments splendidly. His comic moments take place at the start of the show, the first family scene and at the end of the show when he faints when Scrooge gives him a raise. Russell’s best dramatic moment occurs with Tiny Tim’s death scene when he tries to boost his family’s spirits and breaks down in tears. Leigh tugs at your heartstrings in her emotion packed “The Little Child” with the Narrator. Blond haired A.J. Scott who is 7 years old plays Tiny Tim excellently. He is as cute as a button and a very good actor at an early age. 13 year old Scarlet Keene-Connole as Martha, Cam Perrin returns for his third year as Peter and Anabel Moda as Belinda also display strong acting chops both comic and dramatic in the family scenes. Another comic performer is Matthew Chappell who is fabulous as Old Joe. He has a fantastic baritone voice which soars in “Isn’t It Grand, Boys.” He was in the barbershop quartet in “The Music Man” and the soloist in “The Family Business” song in “Young Frankenstein.” Congrats to Matthew and Kevin on their upcoming nuptials in January. So for a phenomenal production of this well known tale, be sure to catch “A Christmas Carol, A Musical Ghost Story” right here at North Shore Music Theatre before Scrooge and his cronies fly out of town for good. Run do not walk to the box office before the run is completely sold out. It will definitely get you into the Christmas spirit for people of all ages. Tell them Tony sent you.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (8 to 23 December)
North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA
1(978)232-7200 or www.nsmt.org