Ebenezer Scrooge might not rival Santa Claus in holiday popularity, but Charles Dickens' miserly curmudgeon, who is visited by ghosts of the past, present and future on Christmas Eve, has held a favored status ever since he was introduced in 1843.
Many of us have childhood memories of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Mine go back to when I was frightened out of my wits every Christmas season by Lionel Barrymore's radio Scrooge.
Barrymore was followed by generations of actors in the role, including some singing Scrooges. It is a singing Scrooge who has taken over the stage at Chesapeake Music Hall on U.S. 50 in a musical production of Dickens' tale.
Thomas M. Quimby conveys the full range of emotions that defines the old skinflint in the Music Hall's production of "A Christmas Carol," with a score by Doug Yetter that fits with the show's mid-19th-century setting and clever lyrics by Michael Hulett that are often touching.
Chesapeake's version of the story is a delight, with costumes and sets that evoke London during the Industrial Revolution and actors who perform ably in multiple roles.
Quimby evolves from cantankerous skinflint to dubious, then fearful, host of spirits and finally to a penitent benefactor.
David Leisure portrays Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's put-upon employee, as a caring family man, never falling into the pathetic "poor me" routine some actors employ.
Leisure also knows his way around a song. As Cratchit's wife, Pamela Phillips is well matched with Leisure as well as with third-grader David Phillips, who plays their son, Tiny Tim, with low-key charm.
Susan Bell appears as Belle, a young Scrooge's aristocratic love interest, and a charwoman -- she manages to stay consistent in )) accent and character in both roles. As Belle, she sings beautifully in "Take My Heart," one of the best songs of the score.
She, narrator Kevin Wallace and Jo Self as Mrs. Dilber rate high marks for convincing cockney accents.
Cynthia Lasner as the Spirit of Christmas Past adds insouciance, deriding Scrooge's concern over past misdeeds. She displays charm as Sally, the wife of Scrooge's good-natured nephew, Fred.
Sean Rivers plays Fred convincingly and displays a pleasant singing voice in "Ours for the Keeping" and "Yes or No." Then he "tops" the rest of the cast as he comes onstage on 18-inch stilts to play the Spirit of Christmas Future.
Darkly cloaked, his face hidden, Rivers is a horrific view of things to come that contrasts sharply with David Reynolds' Spirit of Christmas Present.
Resplendent in gold and green, with a holly crown, Reynolds is a vision to rival the brightest Christmas tree as he taunts and instructs Scrooge. He is also fearsome and wise as Jacob Marley, gliding through the part on roller skates.
Accolades also are due the youngest cast members: first-grader Zachary Yetter, who as the street urchin flubs no lines, and adds some sweet notes; and fifth-grader Nicole Yetter, who acts with feeling and sings and dances with style as Belinda Cratchit.
As Martha Cratchit, 13-year-old Ashley Adkins is as skilled an actor as many twice her age; she dances and sings gloriously. College freshman Mark Baldwin, as Peter Cratchit, is an accomplished singer and actor.
The entire cast delivers memorable moments when they are together onstage.
This show, which runs through Dec. 28, is guaranteed to rev up your holiday engine.
Information: 410-626-7515; Web site, www.toad.net/music hall.
Pub Date: 12/04/97