note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
It’s my Christmas mantra. Just when I think North Shore Music Theatre’s classically delightful production of “A Christmas Carol” can’t get any better, I’m proven wrong.
This year’s streamlined version, which concentrates on the narrator’s story, returns that indomitable, irreplaceable David Coffee, who travels from his home in Arlington, Texas, to perform his signature role of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, in Jon Kimbell and David Zoffoli’s original musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story.
This year, Kimbell is sitting back, enjoying the view, while talented John MacInnis directs and choreographs this vivid production. MacInnis’ traditional waltzes, reels and street pearlies’ tumbling acrobatics are lively.
Happily, Coffee’s longtime “Carol” sidekick, Cheryl McMahon of Marblehead, has returned in her split roles, as Scrooge’s befuddled, terrified housemaid, Mrs. Dilber, jolly Mrs. Fezziwig and a street-wise house thief during the dream sequence. Coffee and McMahon have created a rhythm, their timing precise, their comic relief sublime.
Although “A Christmas Carol” is a dark story about humanity and redemption in London on Christmas Eve, 1843, North Shore Music Theatre preserves its tradition, with carols and music. Designers Jack Mehler and James R. McCartney’s thunderous flashes of the paranormal are defused by Coffee and McMahon’s humorous antics.
How lucky theater owner Bill Hanney is to secure opera-trained, award-winning Boston star Leigh Barrett in the dual roles of ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past, who leads Scrooge on a journey back in time to restore his joy in the Christmas spirit, and as his clerk’s downtrodden wife, Mrs. Cratchit. Barrett’s voice and acting add class here.
Gordon Baird is frightening as the formidable Ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s dead-as-a-doornail friend and partner, whose glowing, ghastly green presence, chain rattling, flights through space, and resounding moans are terrifying. So’s Kevin Patrick Martin as the silent Ghost of Christmas Future, but more vulnerable as Young Scrooge.
Also pleasing theatergoers is Ryan Bates, who returns as the narrator, captivating everyone as he appears ubiquitously among and nearby, telling his story in an 1860’s theater. Bates‘ voice is resonant, his acting sincere. Ebullient JT Turner is another welcome sight in his return as jolly Mr. Fezziwig and a gentleman.
Besides this star-studded cast, the theater-in-the-round boasts its usual outstanding battery of bells, whistles, chimes, gongs, thunderclaps, pyrotechnics, and ghastly spirits, which are omnipresent, throughout the two-hour, two-act production.
Russell Garrett as Bob Cratchit, Andy Jones as Scrooge’s affable nephew, Fred, Natasha Ashworth as Belle, and Beth Stafford Laird as Fred’s lovely bride, Meg, along with two acrobatic pearlies,youth and children’s ensembles, round out this enthusiastic cast. Be sure to keep an eye out for talented 10-year-old Revere resident Brandon Barbosa, whose wishes and song as crippled Tiny Tim Cratchit are heart-rending.
Victorian-garbed musicians, led by Mark Hartman, create a surround-sound. They’re located and separated in several locations, above the stage, in the pit, and occasionally on platforms within the audience, adding full, rich orchestration and effects.
However, traditional “Carol” theatergoers continue to miss handsome, talented George Dvorsky as the larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present and gentleman. Dvorsky, who has graced the North Shore Music Theatre stage in several productions, but specifically in this role for years, is currently working elsewhere. Booming, award-winning Boston star Timothy John Smith adds bluster in the same roles, but lacks the spirit’s- and Dvorsky’s - jolly presence.
You’re probably aware Charles Dickens’ great-great-grandson, Gerald Dickens, is performing readings of his famous relative’s works nearby. I’m sure if he saw this production of “A Christmas Carol,” he’d be delighted, even awestricken --- like theatergoers who’ve made it an annual holiday family tradition.
BOX INFO: Two-act musical play, written by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jon Kimbell,; appearing through Dec. 23, at North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly. Performances are Dec.16,22, at 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 17,23, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 18, at 2 p.m. only. Tickets are $60,$50,$45; discounts offered. For more information, visit nsmt.org or call 978-232-7200.