Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre’s holiday show this year is the 26th Anniversary production of “A Christmas Carol, A Musical Ghost Story which is an annual favorite. This version of this well known story 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 genuine and poignant now as when it first was created back in 1843. This musical version definitely captures the true meaning of the holiday season for one and all. David Coffee returns in triumph to play Scrooge for the 26th time. Audiences have luckily seen David in “Singing in the Rain” and “West Side Story” this season and as always they are beyond thrilled that he is playing this iconic role once again. Current artistic director Kevin Hill helms this year’s presentation of everyone’s favorite holiday show. “A Christmas Carol” tells the well known story of curmudgeonly miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by the ghosts of Marley, Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come who hope to change his destiny and save his soul. Audiences are taken a trip with Scrooge as he takes a strange and magical journey that helps him recapture his exuberance for the true meaning of Christmas once more. Kevin and his cast and crew deliver the goods perfectly with special effects that are as splendid as are the marvelous musical numbers. Bill spares no expense in bringing this beautiful and heart warming tale to his audiences. Once again, it is a phenomenal success with the audience leaping to their feet at the curtain, moved to laughter and tears at all the appropriate moments. Bravo on a job extremely well done!
The special effects are dazzling and more astounding than ever this year. Kevin not only directs and blocks this huge show marvelously, he also choreographs high energy dances that captivate the audience, too. His keen eye for both comic and dramatic situations, bring out the best in these 30 performers. Although there are more comic bits this year, Kevin does not shirk on the pathos that is very important to this magical tale. He makes this the definitive version of “A Christmas Carol” that pleases audiences of all ages. Musical director Milton Granger conducts a ten piece orchestra and taught this enormous cast the lush and beautiful harmonies of these Christmas songs. The choral effect sounds better than ever. David Coffee delivers a tour-de-force performance once again. He, for my seventh time of my seeing this show, is as phenomenal as ever as Scrooge. David mines the many layers of this character perfectly 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. But it is the dramatic moments that will enthrall you thoroughly. They include Fan’s death, the break up with Belle, the astonishing transformation sequence and the death of Tiny Tim. These segments tug on your heartstrings bringing you to tears, no matter how many times you see this show. David makes you believe that Ebenezer has learned from the past, present and future on how to become a better man. The audiences in Beverly could get no better actor than David Coffee to embody this character all these years. Bravo on delivering an outstanding performance to one and all whether it’s your first time, seventh time or more in seeing this magnificent production.
Tommy Labanaris returns for his role as the Narrator for the third year. He does an incredible job as this poignant character. I last review Tommy as the leading character in “Avenue Q” this past summer. He displays his powerful voice in the opening number and especially in the emotionally draining “The Little Child” about Tiny Tim’s death. He and the incomparable Leigh Barrett sing this song together and there isn’t a dry eye in the house. Later on a surprising revelation is given at the end of the show that will also leave you in tears when you find out the hidden secret at last. Two acrobatic dancers called the Pearlies are portrayed by Brady Miller and Brad Trump. They sprinkle their magical dust throughout London while spooking Mrs. Dilbur, transporting Scrooge and the other spirits around town. Their magical dust puts everyone into the Christmas spirit. Both Brady and Brad are phenomenal dancers. Will Ray is dynamic as Jacob Marley and he scares the crap out of Scrooge and the entire audience and is one of the best acted Marley’s I have ever seen. Marley hovers over the audience while warning Scrooge to reform his ways unless he wants to share the fate Marley has suffered these past seven years. Marley exits into hell at the end of the scene. The special effects and pyrotechnics are by ZFX and are stunning to behold. Will previously played Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” and Warner in “Legally Blonde” at NSMT. It’s good to see him back here in Beverly once again.
The three ghosts are lead by Leigh Barrett as Christmas Past. It is her sixth year with this musical and she makes every role she plays fresh and new with each performance. Leigh is striking red head with a glorious soprano voice that is crystal clear in her beautiful opening number “A Dream within a Dream” where she’s backed up by two girls. She chides Scrooge as they watch the scene between Fan and boy Scrooge as well as at Fezziwig’s party when he used to love Christmas. Sophia Wulslin plays Fan and Jake Flynn plays Boy Scrooge. Both of them have played Tiny Tim with her in 2013 and him in 2014 & 2015. Both of them have oodles of talent at an early age. As a matter of fact, Jake was just cast as Charlie in “Willie Wonka” on Broadway and the show opens in March. Andrew Tighe plays Young Scrooge while Britney Morello plays Belle. They shine in their roles and especially in the break up scene while Tim McShea plays the best friend, Dick Wilkins. Peter Adams is fabulous as Christmas Present. He towers over everyone while on stilts and possesses a phenomenal tenor voice which knocks your socks off. His voice soars in “The Boar’s Head Carol” and “The Gloucestershire Carol.” Andrew also portrays Christmas Yet to Come who transforms himself into a statue of Young Scrooge during the transformation sequence. He scares the crap out of Scrooge by convincing him to reform his ways. I last reviewed Andrew as Jimmy in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in July at Reagle Music Theatre. The biggest scene stealer in this show is Cheryl McMahon as Mrs. Dilbur and Mrs. Fezziwig. Some of her comic moments as Dilbur come when she is scared by the Pearlies with a blanket flying off the bed, Scrooge’s coat being hurled at her and then she holds a crucifix out to ward off the evil spirits. She also does an energetic polka as Fezziwig’s wife with J.T. Turner as her jolly husband. Cheryl is a superb actress and these two roles are some of her best work which she’s been portraying for 23 years.
Bronson Norris Murphy returns for his fourth year of playing Fred in this show. He is tall, dark and handsome and is as marvelous as Fred as he was as Tony in “West Side Story” earlier this season. He displays a magnificent tenor voice with Britney Morello who also plays Meg has a fabulous soprano voice in their song “Tomorrow Will be My Dancing Day.” Their voices blend together marvelously. I last reviewed her in “Nine” at Speakeasy Theatre back in 2010 and she was in the ensemble of “Les Miserables”. Bronson also has some comic moments in the opening when he encourages the young carolers to annoy his cantankerous uncle and again in the present when Fred describes his Uncle’s bad behavior to his guests. The Cratchit family shine in their roles, too. Russell Garrett returns as Bob for the fifth year. He handles the comic and dramatic moments splendidly. His comic moments take place in the opening scene, the first family scene and at the end of the show when Bob faints when Scrooge gives him a raise. His best dramatic moment occurs during the death of Tim sequence. Leigh Barrett also plays Mrs. Cratchit marvelously. She sings the poignant “The Little Child” with the Narrator which is a gut wrenching moment for the audience. Joshua Gillespie who is eight years old plays Tiny Tim. He displays his strong voice in “I Saw Three Ships” and his “God Bless Us Everyone” is well done, too. Returning as Martha for her fourth year is Jillian Furber and returning for their second year are Cameron Perrin as Peter and Haven Pereira as Belinda. They display the right amount of comedy and pathos for these roles. Cameron’s bible passage reading is heartfelt and well done, too. Another comic performer is Brian Padgett who is fantastic as Old Joe. His phenomenal voice stops the show with merriment and hilarity in his vaudeville number “Isn’t It Grand Boys?” with Cheryl as Mrs. Dilbur. So for a magnificent 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 cohorts fly out of town for good. It will definitely get you into the Christmas spirit at any age. Run do not walk to the box office before all the tickets are sold out. Tell them Tony sent you.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (9 to 23 December)
North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA
1(978)232-7200 or www.nsmt.org