Like Old Man River, NSMT’s ‘Carol’ rolls along

David Coffee as Scrooge and Russell Garrett as Bob Cratchit in the North Shore Music Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” Photo©David Costa Photography

BEVERLY – It was 45 minutes before the start of a recent production of  “A Christmas Carol,” and the lobby of the North Shore Music Theatre was already crowded.

There were grandparents in reindeer horns and Santa hats galore and kids decked out in red and green, adults enjoying adult beverages and kids munching popcorn.

In 2021, the show was welcomed back after its cancellation due to the pandemic in 2020 but everyone was on pins and needles, waiting for the other shoe to drop, when a sudden outbreak of Covid-19 – lurking like one of the spirits who bedeviled Ebenezer Scrooge  — could have cancelled the run at any moment.

This year, Covid hasn’t disappeared as the mask-wearing staff at NSMT reminded us. But for the first time since 2019, theater-goers were seemingly able to exhale and get in the true holiday spirit, just in time for NSMT’s 31st production of its acclaimed adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic. It is one which, amazingly enough, seems to get better with age and like Old Man River, “just keeps rolling along.”

The long run has been built on the solid foundation of the adaptation, written by former NSMT Artistic Director and Executive Producer Jon Kimbell and colleagues David James and David Zoffoli. It was first presented in 1989 and has been presented every year since with three exceptions.

This “Carol” is Still anchored in its excellence by Texan – that’s right. folks, with the drawl to match – David Coffee, playing Scrooge for the 28th straight time at NSMT.

Billy Goldstein as Old Joe and Cheryl McMahon as Mrs. Dilber in “a Christmas Carol.” Photo©David Costa Photography

His performance has long since become a North Shore treasure, as measured by the rock star welcome he gets at every performance. But he is hardly resting on his hard-won laurels; just watch how invested he is every moment of the production.

The scenes involving his redemption and change into Father Christmas should be preserved and presented to aid anyone planning to attempt the role.

A list of other theatrical professionals who have been welcomed back  again and again. would obviously also include Marblehead’s Cheryl McMahon, performing the dual roles of Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs. Dilber for the 28th time.

Her musical number “Isn’t it Grand, Boys” with Billy Goldstein as Old Joe is an annual highlight, as are her scenes with Coffee both before and after his encounters with the spirits – pure comic gold. That goes also for her interaction with the mischievous “Pearlies” (Flora Dickens and Drew Porrett), the mysterious spirits loosely based on the street buskers of London.

Any excuse will do to hear Leigh Barrett – one of the great theatrical voices of the last generation in this area and a member of the original 1989 cast  – sing and here she does twice. As the Ghost of Christmas Past she performs “A Dream Within a Dream,” and then as a warm, wonderful Mrs. Cratchit the heartbreaking “The Little Child,” with Russell Garrett as her better half, Bob Cratchit. Garrett has also forged a strong comic bond through the years with Coffee, and their scenes together are also an annual highlight.

Bronson Norris Murphy, a veteran of past “Carols,” is a hale fellow well meant as Scrooge’s nephew Fred and Sommer Carbuccia returns as The Narrator, whose secret your may guess before the show ends.

J.T. Turner is again a welcome presence as Mr. Fezziwig and, along with Jaelle Laguerre, as part of  the duo who call on Scrooge at his office seeking donations. Laguerre is also a glorious Ghost of Christmas Present.

Derek Luscotoff as Young Scrooge and Turner Riley as Belle shine in the heartrending scene as Belle returns Scrooge’s engagement ring. Coffee’s Scrooge covers his face in despair, begging his younger self to go after the woman he loved.

Jaelle Laguerre as The Ghost of Christmas Present and David Coffee as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”Photo©David Costa Photography

Young talent is well-represented in this production with Quinn Murphy as Tiny Tim, Emilia Tagliani as Martha Cratchit, Wade Gleeson Turner as Peter Cratchit, Grace Olah as Belinda Cratchit, Addy Daly as Fan, Scrooge’s sister, Alexis Nicole Geary and Joshua McKenna as London children.

The music and special effects – NSMT has long billed this show as a “musical ghost story” – are hugely important, with the vivid projections and the technical wizardry and pyrotechnics marking the terrifying entry and exit of Scrooge’s deceased business partner, Jacob Marley (Ryan Knowles), and the equally terrifying presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Luscotoff again).    

The musical aspect of the show’s success can’t be understated, either.  The orchestra, led by music director Milton Granger, is stationed around the theater for maximum effect, and the score is a skilled blend of period songs, traditional Christmas music, and original music composed for the piece by Alby Potts and James Woodland, NSMT staffers who worked with Kimball. The orchestra – many of whom have also returned year after year – is simply sublime.

And, of course, the entire production is directed and choreographed by NSMT artistic director Kevin P. Hill, and he has only made the piece better each year he has helmed it after coming in with current owner Bill Hanney.

Nothing lasts forever. Someday there will just be memories, the spirits of past Christmases perhaps floating in the ether forever above the flags that adorn the theater’s roof.

For now, however, this “Carol” shows no signs of stopping any time soon and is indeed part of the 2023 schedule.  Like Old Man River, it just keeps rolling along.

The North Shore Music Theatre production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Adapted by Jon Kimbell, assisted by David James and David Zoffoli. Original music composed and arranged by Alby Potts and James Woodland. Directed and choreographed by Kevin P. Hill. Original scenic design by Howard C. Jones. Lighting design by Jack Mehler. Sound design by Leon Rothenberg. Costume coordination and additional costume design by Kelly Baker. Original hair and wig design by Gerard Kelly. Projection design by Nick Wass, Wass Projections.  Music direction by Milton Granger. At the North Shore Music Theatre through Dec. 23.