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By John Horan Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
MIDDLETOWN -- Yes, Virginia, Wayside Theatre is doing "A Christmas Carol" again, but it's the holidays, when Dickens' immortal tale beckons audiences.
Wayside's sprightly production should scratch that seasonal itch, but it also boasts some novel variations to divert folks who have tired of the familiar story of Ebenezer Scrooge's redemption from curmudgeonhood.
Most notably, this "A Christmas Carol" is a musical, courtesy of Warner Crocker, Wayside's artistic director, and Steve Przybylski, its musical director.
The basics of Dickens' tale are all there -- crusty old Ebenezer, the ghosts, the flashbacks, the pitiable Cratchits and, of course, Tiny Tim -- but the action shifts easily from scene to scene. Much of the cast remains on stage throughout, hovering at the fringes, chiming in like a Greek chorus. At other points they roam the aisles and the balcony and even portray scenery such as door knockers and Scrooge's desk.
Przybylski supplies a tuneful score -- a mix of festive ditties, plaintive ballads and snatches of traditional carols -- which he deftly accompanies on a keyboard.
The large cast, including a pride of area youth, sings well and hits all the requisite dramatic emotional chords, from glee to pathos.
Eddie Staver III, the opening night Scrooge, was a fittingly crabby misanthrope, who also displayed surprising agility at crucial moments.
James Fleming was both Marley's deeply tormented ghost and the wily Old Joe. Richard Follett was an ebullient Fezziwig and Bob Payne the stately Ghost of Christmas Present.
An alternate cast appears at some performances.
Til Turner's whimsical set frames the stage with curvy panels that evoke the London skyline. Tamara M. Carruthers provides the clutch of costumes and Wes Calkin the complementary lighting.
"A Christmas Carol" continues through Dec. 24. The box office phone number is 869-1776.