BEVERLY — It’s safe to say that most people past a certain age know, or at least know of, Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption.
They’ve seen “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, either in one of at least five film versions, or from the “Mr. Magoo” cartoon, or in one of hundreds of theatrical productions. They know how the tyrannical miser Scrooge, who scorns his nephew, verbally abuses his clerk, and is oblivious to the struggles the timid Bob Cratchit faces, is visited by the ghost of his late, equally stingy partner Jacob Marley. The frightening apparition leads to a visit from three more spectres representing the past, present and future of Scrooge’s life. They both draw out possible reasons for his penuriousness, and frighten him of what will happen to him in years to come if he doesn’t change his evil ways.
Once again this season Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre presents its unique version of the tale, with both David Coffee (Scrooge) and Cheryl McMahon (Mrs. Dilber the housekeeper) celebrating their silver anniversaries with the production.
It would be hard to imagine Coffee in anything else, at this point (though he has performed other roles at NSMT). He is as much Scrooge as Alastair Sim or Quincy Magoo himself.
Yet each growl, each “humbug,” and — at the end — each giddy, gleeful laugh, seems to come from the depth of his feeling for and interpretation of the part and it never gets old watching him.
Ditto McMahon, who steals every scene in which she appears as the housekeeper (her role as Mrs. Fezziwig is more functionary than anything else). And once Scrooge is redeemed, she simply can’t figure out what to make of him, and the comedy resulting from it is worth the price of admission.
Former artistic director Jon Kimbell conceived this version and debuted it here in 1989. It remains as fresh today as it did then, with annual tweaks added so that you don’t get the feeling you’ve seen it 25 times before.
Some of them work and others, well, don’t work as well.
For example, in the Marley’s Ghost scene, seeing Freddie Kimmel’s Marley flying to and fro reminded one of Whoopi Goldberg being flown back and forth in “Sister Act 2” and the Scaleri Brothers scene in “Ghostbusters.”
One can understand the need to make it memorable. But Marley has some good lines, and they tend to get lost in the bombast.
That’s it for criticisms. The rest of it is spot on. Peter S. Adams has the privilege of portraying The Ghost of Christmas Present, and — as usual — his introduction and his song (“Boar’s Head Carol”) are magnificent.The consort of brass that surrounds the theater in the round as Adams rises onto the stage is still chillingly gorgeous.
Adams moves from being a jolly, happy soul to a righteously indignant one deftly, mocking Scrooge as he fades away, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” in reference to his earlier questions as he scolds solicitors seeking charity money.
Another highlight: Leigh Barrett shines both as the Ghost of Christmas Past” and as Bob Cratchit’s wife. She is the one with the courage to call a spade a spade while her husband tries to be nice and toast to Mr. Scrooge’s health. And she compassionately guides Scrooge through the heartbreaks of his past in which we see glimpses of how and why he ended up as such a cold person.
One of this play’s highlights is the vivid way it captures the spirit of a Dickensian Christmas — which is a far cry from the way it is today. Cast members such as Russell Garrett (Cratchit), J.T. Turner (Fezziwig) and Joy Clark (Belle, who sees Scrooge changing into the miser he ultimately became) reinforce that theme.
And in one of many twists that help bring the play full circle, the same person who plays the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Ryan Mardesich) also portrays Young Scrooge.
All the principals — especially director/choreographer Kevin Hill and music director Milton Granger and costume designer Kelly Baker — deserve a round of applause for adding charm and the feel of Victorian London to the show.
The play runs through Dec. 22.