by Mike Hoban
A CHRISTMAS CAROL – Based on the novella by Charles Dickens. Adapted by Jon Kimbell, David James and David Zoffoli; Directed and Choreographed by Kevin P. Hill; Music Direction by Milton Granger; Original Scenic Design by Howard C. Jones ; Costume Design by Paula Peasley-Ninestein; Lighting Design by Jack Mehler; Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg. Presented by Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT), 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, through December 23.
‘Tis the season, and the North Shore Music Theatre once again rolls out its annual “spirited” retelling of the Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol – A Musical Ghost Story”. The NSMT version, now in its 26th year, features a healthy dose of scary stuff that would make it equally well suited for Halloween, and also approaches the yuletide classic from a different point of view by providing narration from what appears to be an adult version of Tiny Tim. And this hugely entertaining production dazzles while still retaining the timeless and poignant message about the redemptive possibilities of humankind.
As the story opens, we see the joy that the Christmas season is bringing to the streets of London – for everyone but Scrooge, of course – as the company belts out traditional as well as less familiar Christmas songs to establish the holiday atmosphere. But when two men raising funds come to Scrooge’s office soliciting funds for the disadvantaged, and we hear Mr. Scrooge’s views on the less fortunate (“If they would rather die, then they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population”) we know we’re dealing with someone for whom “cold-hearted” doesn’t begin to tell the story (but who could probably win a seat in Congress in some states).
Scrooge’s journey into humanity begins with an encounter with his old business partner, the seven years dead Jacob Marley. NSMT pulls out all the stops on the horror meter, providing us with a truly ghoulish, flying Marley (a bombastic Will Ray) who drags his massive “chains he forged in life” across the stage as Scrooge cowers in the corner, seeking the mercy that he himself would never show a fellow creature. But under the threat of eternal suffering, he accedes, and the painful healing process begins, courtesy of a trio of outsized spirits. The first is a rather stunning Ghost of Christmas Past (Boston favorite Leigh Barrett, who also ably doubles as Mrs. Cratchit) who takes Scrooge back to his childhood following a beautiful rendition of “Dream Within a Dream” (fittingly based on an Edgar Allen Poe poem). Christmas Past (Peter S. Adams) is equally impressive, a jolly giant of a man/spirit, who gives Scrooge a dose of income inequality reality via a trip to the Cratchit’s home; as is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, whose horrifying predictions frighten Scrooge onto his spiritual path.
NSMT staple David Coffin, in his 23rd consecutive year as Scrooge (but who also submitted a brilliant turn as Doc in this season’s “West Side Story”) again delivers a Scrooge for the ages, transforming from a bitter and heartless cretin into a loving uncle and humanitarian. The music is mostly traditional songs, with some familiar ones like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Here We Come A-Wassailing”, and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, but there are some highly effective obscure tunes, including “Isn’t It Grand Boys” an old English music hall tune sung by Mrs. Dilbur (the scene stealing Cheryl McMahon, also in her 23rd production), the housekeeper who robs him upon his death, and her slimy cohorts. The number is a highlight in a show filled with some spectacular staging, and the singing is consistently well done throughout. The orchestra is also a plus in this production, with sections and individual players scattered throughout the theater.
The musical numbers and the extravagant enhancements to the show do not detract in any way from the simple message of the story: that living only for oneself is a sad and lonely existence. The non-musical portions of the story are as compelling as any movie version, as we see Scrooge transform from a heartless miser into a loving human overnight. Coffee really embodies every Scrooge I’ve ever seen and his performance is remarkable. The cast is uniformly strong, with Leigh Barrett a standout, especially vocally; and Tommy Labanaris as the adult Tiny Tim and Joshue Gillespie as young Tim especially memorable.
If you haven’t got Christmas in your heart yet, this season, the NSMT may be just the place to get it. For more info, go to: http://www.nsmt.org