NSMT’s Christmas Carol A Heartwarming Spectacle (4.5 Stars)

A CHRISTMAS CAROL – Based on the novella by Charles Dickens. Written by Jon Kimbell, David James and David Zoffoli; Directed by Jon Kimbell; Choreography by John MacInnis ; Music Direction by Milton Granger; Scenic Design by Howard C. Jones; Costume Design by Paula Peasley-Ninestein. Presented by Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT), 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, through December 21st.

One of the great things about a classic piece of work like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is that the story is so timeless and poignant that no matter what the adaptation vehicle – film, television, stage, musical theater or even cartoon (the brilliant Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, made in 1962, for instance), there is a good chance that you’ll walk away from the production feeling pretty good about the redemptive possibilities of humankind. And that is certainly true of the North Shore Music Theatre’s wonderful (and pyrotechnic) version of this yuletide tale. NSMT delivers a top-notch musical retelling of the classic, with David Coffee returning once again to recreate his quintessential Ebenezer Scrooge for the 21st year.

The spin on this version is that it’s told from the perspective of Tiny Tim. Tim has since grown up, and despite his cane, appears to be living a healthy, happy and grateful life. Twenty years have passed since Scrooge’s night of enlightenment, and he himself has since passed on. But just as the spirits came to transform Ebenezer’s life, he in turn passed that spirit onto the Cratchits and Tiny Tim, who in turn is now passing it on to the audience. This version has also been billed as a “musical ghost story”, and it lives up to that billing on both of those counts as well.

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” sung by Mrs. Dilbur (the scene stealing Cheryl McMahon), 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. The singing is consistently well done throughout, with Lianne Gennaco a standout on the number “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” as Meg, in the duet with Fred, Scrooge’s cheery but poor nephew. The one original number, “A Dream Within A Dream” is beautifully rendered by the Ghost of Christmas Past (Leigh Barrett).

This version also works as a spectacle as well, with the scene where Marley appears to warn Scrooge of his otherworldly visitors as scary as anything “Spookyworld” has to offer. Freddie Kimmel is a hit as Jacob Marley, flying about the stage, indignantly bellowing, “Mankind was my business!” as his massive chains rattle and sparks (literally) fly everywhere. You’ve never seen the already bombastic scene played this maniacally. There are other flashy elements as well, including two fantastic acrobatic dancers (Nathaniel Braga and Brad Trump) that I sometimes found distracting rather than enhancing to the production, but who seemingly doubled as a pair of elegant roadies, assisting with the complex staging of the show.

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 doing double duty as Mrs. Cratchit/Ghost of Christmas Past) a standout, especially vocally; the aforementioned Cheryl McMahon (like Coffee, also returning for the 21st time); and Tommy Labanaris as the adult Tiny Tim and eight-year old Jake Flynn 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/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1149