ELLSWORTH — A chance to change the course of one’s life and make amends for past wrongdoings is a wonderful thing. The possibility of redemption is powerfully conveyed in Ebenezer Scrooge’s joyful awakening to the world and realization of his greed and indifference to the suffering and love of those around him in The Grand’s holiday production, “A Musical Christmas Carol,” which opened last Friday and runs through Sunday, Dec. 22.
Directed and choreographed by Ashley Terwilliger, a stage adaption of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale, “A Musical Christmas Carol” opens on Christmas Eve in London’s neighborhood of Camden Town. Snow is falling on Victorian era-dressed folks milling about and exchanging holiday greetings in the street. Set in the mid-1800s, tweed-capped lads dart among the strolling young girls snug in stoles and capelets. Tiny Tim (Lincoln Henderson) hobbles around in their midst.
The scene shifts to a cold, spartan office, where actor Jim Pendergist cuts a cranky figure as Scrooge, keeping a hawk eye on his underpaid, fingerless-mitted clerk Bob Cratchit (John Hamer). Frosted windows, two desks and a meager coal fire set the stage effectively. The miserly money lender’s resolutely cheerful nephew Fred (Kevin Kyle) bursts into the counting house to invite his miserable uncle to Christmas dinner, but is sent packing with a stream of insults.
“I am not dining with you on any day!” Scrooge bellows, warming up to his role. “I hate Christmas!” Fred gets in one last “Merry Christmas” as he flees the counting house.
Before seeing “A Musical Christmas Carol,” theater-goers may want to brush up on Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” its plot and host of colorful characters. Adapted for the stage by The Grand’s executive director Nick Turner, the musical’s cast has no fewer than 65 cast members to sort out. Some play main characters — Scrooge, his childhood love Belle and his former business partner and sole friend Jacob Marley — in different phases of their life.
Still Terwilliger, ably assisted by stage manager Mary Clark, manage the large cast well. Cast members include many elementary students, as young as second grade, look comfortable on stage, facing their audience head-on and seem to be having a ball.
“A Musical Christmas Carol” boasts special effects from the swirling fog enveloping Camden Town to the whistling wind, Marley’s live, contorted face in Ebenezer’s door knocker and the ominous sound of the bell striking the hour and signaling the midnight visitations of Marley’s Ghost (Daniel Clement) and the Spirits of Christmas Present (Kyla Micallizi), Past (Mark Chandler) and Future (Bob Terwilliger).
The production’s technical director, Peter Miller, somehow makes Marley actually rise from his grave. As Marley’s Ghost, dripping with clanking chains, Clement delivers a memorable performance singing “Ask Me” and forcing the berobed Scrooge to recall and realize their mutual selfishness and lack of humanity and their behavior’s consequences. A towering figure, his face cast in a green pall, the deceased moneylender reduces his penny-pinching partner to a quavering figure who protests “One spirit is enough for me!”
Preceding the Ghost of Marley’s appearance is a mesmerizing scene in which four veiled wraiths (Kyla Micalizzi, Bronwyn Wachter, Savannah Hasham and Rose Kazmierczak) sing “Melancholy” amid drifting vaporous clouds and further heighten the spooky atmosphere.
Scrooge travels back in time to his unhappy childhood during which Little Ebenezer (Joseph Wadman) was beaten by his debt-ridden father and left alone over Christmas at boarding school. His sister Little Fan (Dickens had a sister named Fanny), tenderly played by Bronwyn Wachter, pays him a surprise visit to lift his spirits, but she dies young. Aside from Young Jacob Marley (Ben Carter), his sole schoolmate who rescues him from bullies, his other childhood friend is the charming, minxish Little Belle (Isla Uphouse), who gives Ebenezer a kick in the shins.
On his whirlwind journey, the miserly debt collector encounters Young Scrooge (Ben Chandler) whose fiancée Belle (Savannah Hasham) has broken off their engagement because of his obsession with money and paranoid fear of poverty. She and her future self, played by Pat Summerer, sing bittersweet, heartfelt solos.
Rebecca Edmondson, director of Hancock County’s Eastern Maine Pops Orchestra and vocal and instrumental music teacher at Conners-Emerson School in Bar Harbor, provides piano accompaniment for the cast’s talented singers — from Kyla Micalizzi as the Ghost of Christmas present and other roles — to Kevin Kyle as Fred. Abigail Foster nails her role as the snarky Charwoman.
In the end, the parsimonious Scrooge is transformed into a jubilant fellow intent on reversing the course of his life and ways. His and the whole cast’s voices ring out and lifted the audience in their rendition of “Breath of Fresh Air.”
Remaining performances of “A Musical Christmas Carol” are at 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Dec. 20-21, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22. Tickets cost $20 per adult and $12 per student (17 and under). To reserve seats, call 667-9500 and visit grandonline.org.