Ebenezer Scrooge constantly has his sleep interrupted by ghosts arriving in the middle of the night. When Scrooge initially rationalizes that a ghostly visitor might be caused by a bit of undigested beef, it's all the more understandable considering that "A Christmas Carol" is being staged at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia.
As everybody knows through its many stage and screen incarnations over the centuries, Charles Dickens' 1843 tale imposes so many reform-minded spirits on Scrooge that he'll definitely wake up as a better person.
In this musical theater version of "A Christmas Carol," these pesky visits are often accompanied by brightly costumed Victorian citizens who are quick to break into song and dance. The old miser doesn't stand a chance when he's up against those festive forces!
The lively score by two showbiz veterans, composer Alan Menken and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, adds Broadway-style flourishes to the familiar 19th-century tale; and the musical's book by Mike Ockrent and Ahrens further edits down what is already an efficiently written story.
You may have reason to wonder how Charles Dickens would feel about this particular treatment, because the music and dance owe as much to a Broadway chorus line as to an English music hall. By the same token, Dickens was a commercially savvy salesman when it came to his career and might well have loved the tap dancing.
The enjoyable Toby's production moves as fast as those dancing feet. Director David James, musical director Pamela Wilt, choreographer Laurie Newton and the rest of the creative team are having a good time putting on the show and that spirit enlivens what potentially could seem like overly familiar material.
All of that good cheer, however, occasionally seems at odds with the overall production design and lighting. Granted, Dickens' morality tale involves its share of disturbing thoughts leading up to old Scrooge's new day. It's therefore justifiable that this production has a darkly atmospheric look for many scenes; and there is astutely managed pinpoint lighting to highlight key players within otherwise deeply shadowed scenes.
The problem is that sometimes there are scenes that seem needlessly dark, including ensemble musical numbers in which cheerful sentiments are expressed within the literally dark and, yes, fog machine-enhanced London night. Bringing up the light levels a little would work wonders — and just send the electric bill to Mr. Scrooge.
As for this particular Scrooge, you can rest assured that the crusty character will be vividly portrayed in the Toby's production. That's because David Bosley-Reynolds is playing Scrooge for the fourth time. He persuasively embodies Scrooge's grouchy attitude and vocally brings real feeling to songs including "Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Today."
That being the case, it was puzzling that an actor known for a booming voice and clear phrasing had a few scenes in which he needed better articulation. Bosley-Reynolds certainly knows all the lines of dialogue and, for that matter, so do we. For whatever reason, some of his lines barely cut through that nocturnal fog. On the plus side, he seemed more energized as the show went on and really had the audience rooting for Scrooge's salvation.
Elsewhere in the large and capable cast, there is a particularly smart performance by director David James as Scrooge's long-suffering office assistant Bob Cratchit. Although this sleek musical packaging of the Dickens story does not exactly provide for much depth psychology in the characters, James manages to bring emotional substance to Cratchit's dual devotion to both his loving family and his nasty boss.
In songs including "You Mean More to Me" and "Christmas Together," James expresses the essential goodness of Bob Cratchit. His voice also meshes well with the other performers singing in these and other numbers.
The tightly directed and choreographed ensemble truly, er, goes to town with street scenes and holiday dances that are further brought to life through the costumes designed by Lawrence B. Munsey.
These company members admirably show off their coordination skills as a ghostly chorus line that actually resembles a prison chain gang in the musical number "Link By Link." It's fun to watch such a number and, of course, it's also among the thematic links ensuring that Scrooge eventually puts his ghosts behind him.
"A Christmas Carol" runs through Jan. 8 at Toby's Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia. Call 410-730-8311 or go to www.tobysdinnertheatre.com