A magical 'Carol' at North Shore Music Theatre
Once again, North Shore Music Theatre has aced its annual production of Jon Kimbell’s creative adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.” This ambitious production features a large and talented ensemble, with gorgeous period costumes and sets. It is an invigorating production from its first boisterous and picturesque opening scene to its joyous conclusion.
Kimbell’s adaptation of Dickens’ epic story of the spiritual transformation of a miser is carried forward this year by an impressive background score. The music is a combination of classic Christmas carols and the original melodies and arrangements of Brian Cimmet, Alby Potts and James Woodland. Several small ensembles, all visible to the audience, play the charming score. Details on the origins of the music are outlined in the program.
Another interesting change this year is the projection of Marley’s face onto a series of veils during the famous scene where Ebeneezer Scrooge’s doorknocker becomes the face of his dead partner Jacob Marley.
The engaging Jeffrey de Picciotto narrates this production as if telling a fascinating bedtime story to the audience. This narration fleshes out the considerable points of the original story while the talented cast brings them to life on the arena stage.
David Coffee has become a seemingly irreplaceable Scrooge over the years. Liking Scrooge in spite of his stinginess is an essential feature of any production of “A Christmas Carol.” Coffee’s richly textured performance just keeps getting better and better, especially his joyous transformation at the story’s end.
Coffee fills his characterization of Scrooge with wonderfully quirky humor and deft physical comedy, as well as truly touching moments during his transformation.
Tom Stags returns as the ghastly green ghost of Jacob Marley, prone to fly into the air whenever Scrooge annoys him. Staggs delivers superbly clear and meaningful dialog while being dragged about and flown high over the audience by scary sprites called Pearlies in this show.
As for the Pearlies, who serve as visible poltergeists, Adam Ray Dyer, Curtis Schroeger and Mark Shunkey are agile and acrobatic, but their space-age costuming is a jarring note amid the production’s 1800s London look. Is there a way to conceive a Victorian-looking Pearlie?
Nancy Johnston is fun as Scrooge’s nervous housekeeper Mrs. Dilbur, and also has a fine vocal duet as Mrs. Fezziwig.
Wayne W. Pretlow is a powerful singer, and strikes just the right note as the jolly and loving Mr. Fezziwig.
Benjamin Howes has the perfect look for the gentle Bob Cratchit. He is sweet and believable, and the audience just loves the moment when he is overcome by Scrooge’s sudden generosity.
The ghosts in this production are towering presences. Sarah Knapp as the Ghost of Christmas Past is a vision in white as she sings the lovely “Dream Within A Dream” in a sweet soprano voice. Later, as Mrs. Cratchit, she has another lovely song, “The Little Child.”
Andrew Varela is a handsome, red-velvet clad Ghost of Christmas Present, using unseen stilts to become impossibly tall and imposing. Varela’s powerful singing reinforces the sense of dealing with something larger than life. He also brings a vigorous presence to one of the gentlemen seeking charitable donations from Scrooge.
Jeff Edgerton makes a truly menacing Ghost of Christmas Future, as well as a convincing and handsome Young Scrooge.
Renee Brna is beautiful, sweet and touching as Scrooge’s young love Belle.
Kevin Massey brings charm and vigor to the role of Scrooge’s nephew Fred, conceived in this production as loving to pull small pranks on his stubbornly unresponsive uncle.
The opening scenes are carried along by fresh and vigorous performances by all of the supporting players.
North Shore has a wonderful talent pool of young performers, and they all shine in this production. especially Andrew Murdock as Tiny Tim Cratchit.
The horror movie-like sound effects seem to have been toned down a bit this year, making for a more family-friendly production. The numerous children in the audience did not appear to be having a problem with the show’s scary elements, but it would be advisable to know your own children’s tolerance level for such scenes.
The theater is collecting new toys in the lobby for Tiny Tim’s Toy Drive during the run of this show. New, unopened and unwrapped toys for boys and girls from two to 12 will be donated to three local charities.
“A Christmas Carol” continues through Dec. 23 with 8 p.m. performances on Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and Sundays, and a 7:30 p.m. performance on Wednesday, Dec. 20.
Tickets are priced from $45 to $70 with youth and senior discounts available. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 978-232-7200, online at www.nsmt.org or in person at 62 Dunham Road [Exit 19 off Route 128] in Beverly.
Personal listening devices, large print, and Braille programs are available.
Christmas with the Cratchits, a free pre-show discussion on holiday traditions, will be presented at 1:15 p.m. before the Dec. 9, 16, and 23 matinees. Meet in the lobby at 1 p.m. to participate. Call the box office at 978-232-7200 for more information.
Out at the North Shore, an evening for the Gay and Lesbian Community with a free post-show reception, live entertainment, and members of the cast, is on Dec. 14.