The arts have given the world many wonderful Christmas presents over the years. Handel's "Messiah," Gian-Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" and Tchaikovsky's ballet score to "The Nutcracker" are but three examples.
And from the literary realm is Charles Dickens' popular tale of human redemption, "A Christmas Carol."
The Annapolis Dinner Theatre's initial presentation of this seasonal classic was an energetic, attractive affair highlighted by Chuck Richards' menacing representation of Scrooge and actor David Reynolds, who stole the show not once, but twice as Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Some actors play Scrooge as a cranky fussbudget while others, like George C. Scott in his televised version, imbue Ebeneezer with a haughty chill that slowly numbs the optimism of those around him. But this Scrooge was, pure and simple, mean. Resembling a dyspeptic Ben Franklin, Richards snarled and snapped his way through the role with an energetic flair that made his final conversion all the more wonderful.
Reynold's Jacob Marley featured deft timing, fearsome howling and an expressive singing voice. His "Ghost of Christmas Present" was perhaps the most nuanced character of the entire production and dealt authoritatively with Scrooge as only a life-changing specter knows how.
As has been the case with all other Annapolis Dinner Theater productions I've seen, the ensemble players were of excellent quality. From Fezziwig and his Mrs., to Mark Baldwin's pure-voiced Tiny Tim to Michael Linthicum's sincerely drawn Bob Cratchit, this was a high-quality cast.
And what a fine sounding chorus they made!
Among the leading players, only the Ghost of Christmas Past was a disappointment. She looked wonderful, but imparted none of the poignancy that makes this role such a moving one. It is this apparition, of course, that summons forth the first glimmerings of humanity in Scrooge and there must be evidence of genuine interaction with the old reprobate. There was none to be found. Key jogs to the old man's memory were delivered matter-of-factly, with no sense of irony. Better she should have cast as the "Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come" who doesn't have much to say.
I was also less than thrilled with the play's undistinguished vocal score, which does nothing to enhance Dicken's characterizations or his wit.
"Speak To Me," a song added to this production for Scrooge's old flame Belle, sounded quite out of place; a soft-rock ballad that would never pass for Victorian Top 40. The Partonesque quiver in the young woman's voice didn't exactly conjure up 19th-century London, either.
The show was nicely staged. Movement was invariably crisp and effective and the cast looked terrific in its bonnets and knickers. One of the lead narrators looked as if he'd been deposited back in time from a Jersey City loading dock, but otherwise the costuming went a long way toward restoring the atmosphere the music took away.
This altogether pleasant production co-exists quite nicely with the Colonial Players' annual Dickens-fest. I suspect that this Annapolis Dinner Theatre production will deservedly maintain a following of its own in years to come.