NSMT’s ‘Carol’ deserves to be a tradition

BEVERLY — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Maybe just tweak it a little.
There’s many good reasons that, since it debuted in 1989, the North Shore Music Theatre’s adaptation of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has attracted more than one million people and become the theater’s signature production.
It features a generous helping of period and original music, lovely choreography, special effects designed to lift you out of your seat, and a timeless, well-acted story.

David Coffee as "Eben

David Coffee as Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Photo: Paul Lyden

And, oh, yes, David Coffee playing the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge; this month marks the 19th time he’s playing Scrooge on the NSMT stage.
The Texan has become a holiday icon of the first order, so much so that he gets applause just for entering, before issuing a single “Bah, humbug,” as he entertains a whole new generation of theater-goers since he first played the part.
NSMT Artistic Director Arianna Knapp, the director of this production, has found a way to add her own stamp to the production. adding some music, what appeared to be new choreography and enhanced special effects to what NSMT likes to call its “musical ghost story.”
Knapp and the theater have found a way to entertain the video-game generation by continually raising the bar when it comes to the spirits — a howling, flying, chain-rattling Jacob Marley (Matt Allen) shows up from time to time to scare the daylights out of you, as does the menacing Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Kevin Patrick Martin).
Nathaniel Braga and Joshua Keith are wonderful as the Pearlies, the acrobatic dancing spirits who are always on the fringe of the action.
The show features the Broadway-quality voices of Leigh Barrett as the Ghost of Christmas Past and George Dvorsky, resplendent once again as the regal, bare-chested Ghost of Christmas Present.
Ryan Bates is a capable, pleasant narrator and Russell Garrett as Bob Cratchit leads a strong family of acting Cratchits.
The children are always a bright spot of the show, and this year was no different Sophia Wulsin, 8, of Lowell made history as NSMT’s first female Tiny Tim, and she was bright of spirit and clear of voice.
Ah, the music. Music Director Mark Hartman artfully arranges his horns and strings, flute and harp around the space for numbers such as “Tomorrow Shall Be my Dancing Da,y” “Boar’s Head Carol” and Barrett’s stirring rendition of “The Little Child.”
And what would the show be without Cheryl McMahon as Scrooge’s housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber; the interplay between she and Coffee is an annual highlight.
McMahon as Dilber delights in Scrooge’s desmise as she prances about gleefully in the number “Isn’t it Grand Boys?” and later, after Scrooge’s transformation is complete, Coffee hands McMahon a coin and asks her if she knows what it is for.
“To keep me mouth shut?” McMahon answers fearfully.
Later, a gleeful Coffee can’t stop giggling as he really discovers the spirit of “I don’t know what to do. I’m as light as a feather.”
It tugged at the heart then, just as it does now.
After the curtain call subsided, Coffee took his traditional “victory lap” around the stage greeting old friends and new.
I’m a lot older since I first saw this adaptation in 1990, but the show never gets old to me, and that’s a tribute to all involved. It is and deserves to be a North Shore tradition.
The North Shore Music Theatre production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Directed by Adrianna Knapp. Adapted by Jon Kimbell, David James and David Zoffoli with original music by Alby Potts and James Woodland. Through Dec. 23. Nsmt.org.