Dickens in New York, 1868
Dickens in New York, 1868 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens)

SHIRLEY -- Charles Dickens' classic tale of a grinch named Scrooge whose saving grace was the spirit of Christmas is a seasonal specialty almost sure to please audiences at this time of year, whether the story is read aloud by the fireside or adapted for screen or stage.

ShirleyArts! presentation of "Bah Humbug," staged for three performances in early November, fit the traditional format nicely, offering up a nostalgic noggin of pre-holiday cheer.

Based on a book adaptation of the original by Rebbeca Ryland, with music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur, the play was nicely nuanced for an amateur production, with adroit casting, evocative sets, songs well-sung and satisfyingly authentic costumes.

The master storyteller's tale of a stingy old coot who gets into the holiday spirit after three ghost-guided walks into his own past, present and future almost tells itself, with a story line like a map of known territory and characters as familiar as family.

Amid a cast of a couple dozen, some in more than one role, Ebenezer Scrooge, the main character in Dickens' redemptive tale, takes center stage in this version, too, as a money-grubbing grouch saved from a doom of his own making thanks to eerie encounters that teach him the error of his ways.

After a lively musical introduction and dramatic preamble sets the mood, the action gets going when the ghost of Scrooge's deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, shows up in his bleak abode on Christmas Eve.


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Festooned with sin-forged chains, the miserable wraith speaks of after-death woes caused by a lifetime of selfishness and greed and promises to send three spirits to help his old friend avoid the same grim fate.

Bob Cratchit, the bright-eyed -- some might say cockeyed -- optimist, ill-treated and underpaid by his boss, Mr. Scrooge, is the epitome of a poor man who is rich in homely blessings that he counts with wit and cheerful aplomb.

Tiny Tim, the Cratchits' crippled child, reminds us of the "true meaning" of Christmas in its Christian sense. "God bless us, every one!" crows Tim, progenitor of his father's faith and unbiased good will.

I attended the play's final performance, a Sunday matinee. It was simply delightful.

I was hooked from the moment John Rounds, as crotchety old Scrooge, appeared on stage, appropriately stooped and shabby, spewing a mean-spirited world view peppered with phrases his character is famous for, such as "Bah, humbug!"

The arrival of Marley's ghost, vigorously portrayed by Dina Samfield, elicited a collective gasp -- and some giggles -- from the audience. Grimly resplendent in shades of ghastly gray, Marley alternately camped it up, wafted and stomped across the stage, moaning, groaning, rattling his chains and exuding an aura of the grave -- or gravy, if you accept Scrooge's take on his unwelcome, unearthly guest.

Another feature was how aptly the period costumes fit present-day characters on stage, as if this were their accustomed attire. Men, women and children, from cast members of note to anonymous carolers, tradesmen, villagers and a trio of "benevolent ladies" looked as if they'd walked straight out of the past to take up their roles on the streets of Shirley.

Bob Huxley as Mr. Fezziwig, for instance, young Ebenezer's benevolent former boss, Allison Martell as his sister Fanny and others who colorfully peopled the fictional Mr. Scrooge's storied life.

In the end, Scrooge is converted, of course, but if Rounds' reformed skinflint was less endearing as a generous gentleman than he was captivating as a cruel curmudgeon, that was all well and good for a story with a moral to impart, happy ending and all.

That's how a 19th-century work of literature becomes a timeless classic, with a good story, well told, and memorably unique characters. And it's why "A Christmas Carol," which gave birth to "Bah Humbug!" and other seasonal remakes, still resonates today.

Mr. Dickens gave the world of great books an array of timeless treasures, volumes whose worth far exceeds their hefty shelf weight. 

The author wrote beautifully and observed keenly, and the unique characters he created, like the books they live in, withstood the test of time. "Bah Humbug!" did them justice.

With a stated mission to "support and promote the visual and performing arts for education and enjoyment, ShirlleyArts! took pride in a production that included two and three generations of some local familes. To learn more about the nonprofit organization, contact by email: mail@shirleyarts.org.