The familiar story of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, mixed with clowning, tumbling, juggling, dancing, singing, even a little magic -- that's A Christmas Carol as performed at Howard Community College.
This variation on Charles Dickens' novel was created many years ago for a theater in Los Angeles. The adapter, Doris Baizley, conceived the idea of presenting a Victorian English story in a Renaissance Italian style.
Commedia dell'arte troupes were popular in Italy in the 16th century and later. The performers were skilled improvisers, making up dialogue, jokes and comic business but always sticking to a basic story. Baizley imagined a production of A Christmas Carol as improvised by such a company.
Working with Baizley's script, the energetic young people in HCC's Student-Alumni Arts program have added a 21st-century touch: the athletic atmosphere of the Cirque du Soleil. It all makes for a dazzling experience.
Before Carol begins, there is a comedy bit by a magician (David Palmer) and his put-upon assistant (Grace Anastasiadis). Then a fussy stage manager (Stephen Backus) checks off the show's property list with a prop girl (Lindsey Nixon) who would rather be acting.
The entire cast enters -- actors in Victorian garb, clowns in colorful costumes reminiscent of the commedia dell'arte. They display their talents in a fast-moving variety show involving all the activities mentioned above, and throw in an unexpected skill: English bell ringing.
A Christmas Carol is about to start, but the actors portraying Scrooge and Tiny Tim are missing. The prop girl jumps at the chance to play Tiny Tim, the reluctant stage manager is forced into the role of Scrooge, and the show is on.
The performers kid their way through the best-remembered scenes from Dickens' story. Dialogue is altered, the acting is exaggerated and the clowns do their thing all through the show.
An occasional scene gets serious treatment, providing an effective contrast.
We see Scrooge in his office, snarling at clerk Bob Cratchit (Jamie C. Driskill), refusing a dinner invitation from his nephew Fred (David Palmer) and spurning people collecting money for charity (Madison Bahr and Matt Lottes).
We see him warned by the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley (Brandon Hoyle), and visited by the spirits.
As soap bubbles waft over the audience, the Spirit of Christmas Past, played by Ashanti Cooper, enters in tutu, tights and a sash reading MISS PAST. The spirit reminds Scrooge of his lonely school days; of his first boss, the good-hearted Mr. Fezziwig; of his sweetheart Belle (Katy Newcomb), who refused to marry him because he loved money more than her.
The Spirit of Christmas Present turns out to be a trio. They take Scrooge to the Cratchits', where Mrs. Cratchit (Santina Maiolatesi) reveals a lovely singing voice in a lullaby to Tiny Tim. Looking in on the celebration at his nephew Fred's, Scrooge wants to take part in the games, but has to remain unseen.
The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, a silent, immobile figure in black cloak and hood, shows Scrooge his death -- alone, with no one to care about him. Scrooge looks on with horror as scavengers pick over his clothes and belongings.
Returning to his bedroom, he vows to be a better man. He goes to Fred's house for dinner, then returns to his office and promises Bob Cratchit and his family a better life.
Dickens' story thrives amid the show's enjoyable glitz and entertaining carryings-on. Others in the cast are William G. Shown, Nathan Purser, Jessica Strunk, Andrew Weidig and Michael Wood. The kaleidoscopic direction is by Jenny Male, the wild and colorful costumes are by Denise Umland, the impressive masks by Peter Boyer.
Howard Community College presents a Student-Alumni Arts production of "A Christmas Carol," adapted by Carol Baizley, at 8 p.m. tomorrow and at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday in Theater Outback, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Tomorrow's performance includes sign language interpretation. Tickets $12 ($8 for students). Reservations: 410-772-4900, ext. 0.