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'Christmas Carol' classic brought to life by Pasadena Theatre Company

It's time to kindle our Christmas spirits by catching a performance of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" — a classic that first appeared in 1843 and is now a perennial theater favorite each holiday season.

Pasadena Theatre Company is renewing its own holiday tradition of presenting "A Christmas Carol" for a total of six performances at Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park.

Set in Victorian London, "A Christmas Carol" tells the story of stingy merchant Scrooge, who chases carolers away in the play's opening scene and in another Christmas Eve scene counts the number of coals his beleaguered clerk, Bob Cratchit, burns to take the bitter chill from his office.

Dickens depicts the abuses of industrialization, including merchants' greed and inhumane working conditions, with children being forced into harsh labor and deprived of education.

The message of "A Christmas Carol" is that miserly Scrooge is redeemable as he learns the lessons taught by visiting spirits of past, present and future Christmases, undergoing a transformation that enables him to celebrate the holiday. In the process, Scrooge also learns how to live the other 364 days of the year and realizes that his miserliness may have deprived and impoverished him as much as it has others.

Judging by the near-final rehearsal PTC performance I enjoyed, this production meets the Pasadena players' well-established high standards. Another cause for celebration is Pasadena's return to its former Chesapeake Arts Center home, where PTC became the first company to perform regularly on both CAC main and studio stages.

Contributing to the excellence of this production is PTC artistic director Chuck Dick, who again serves as director of "A Christmas Carol" and has gathered a strong cast of 38 actors, some debuting and others reprising roles they played in the past. Dick also reprises one of his favorite roles as Scrooge. PTC President Sharon Steele serves as producer while also handling publicity. Heather Williams is stage manager, and Torsi Martin is in charge of costumes.

Dick estimates that he's played Scrooge 15 times, and he is now able to inhabit every familiar aspect of our favorite Christmas curmudgeon — roaring bah-humbugs and snarling at all seeking his seasonal charitable giving or merely offering him holiday greetings. The actor clearly relishes Scrooge's emotional and spiritual transformation into a man who keeps Christmas merry. Dick's Scrooge is a masterful portrayal in nuanced reaction to a series of encounters with various past and present spirits, in which Scrooge's fear is palpable, motivating him to repent and reform.

Scrooge is so central to the plot that most of the ensemble of actors can be judged by their interactions with him. Tom Delaney complements Dick's Scrooge ideally as Bob Cratchit, unfailingly optimistic and good-natured despite Scrooge's constant provocation. At times, he injects subtle, unexpected humor as he avoids confrontation with his boss.

Later, Delaney delivers high comedy as he conveys his confusion with Scrooge's sudden generosity in double-takes. At the opposite end, Delaney brings pathos to a scene in which he envisions the death of his beloved son, Tiny Tim.

In his first PTC appearance, Christopher Carothers impresses in the demanding role of Marley's Ghost, bringing drama and Shakespearean eloquence to his role as Scrooge's former rapacious merchant partner. Carothers creates a terrifying moment as he warns Scrooge to change his ways to avoid a fate like his own, being forced to atone for his earlier behavior by eternally wearing weighty chains of greed.

Elizabeth Simonaire reprises for the fifth time her role as the Spirit of Christmas Past, bringing a charming, enigmatic quality. She laughs at the greed of the present Scrooge and sees beneath the surface the once-vulnerable, needy young Ebenezer.

Two memorable characters of Ebenezer's youth are the fun-loving, generous Mr. Fezziwig, well-played by Bob Nichols in his second appearance in the role, and equally delightful Laura Pittman as Mrs. Fezziwig, also enjoying her second appearance in PTC's "Christmas Carol."

Keith Norris delivers a fine portrayal of Christmas Present that includes wearing a glorious costume with a natural grace. Woody Shelton lends a somber tone to his wordless playing of the role of Christmas Future.

Two supporting players who add much humor to PTC's production are Joan Ashwell as Scrooge's longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber, who comically conveys her near-fear of her newly generous boss, whom she has difficulty recognizing. Carolyn (Cookie) Thompson also brings fun to her lively portrayal of Suzanne the Cook.

Kudos to all of the young players, especially to Andrew Wagner who at age 8 plays a most convincing Tiny Tim.

Weekend performances are scheduled Nov. 25, 26 and 27 and Dec. 2, 3, and 4 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Chesapeake Arts Center's Studio 194 Theatre on Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park. Tickets are priced at $12 for all ages and can be ordered on Pasadena Theatre Company's website at Call 410-440-8460 for further information.

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