CHARLES DICKENS' tightfisted, coldhearted wretch, Ebenezer Scrooge, is back to take us on that familiar, bittersweet journey through time that ultimately transforms Scrooge into the best of all Christmas spirits.
Only now the old skinflint (who originally existed in 1840s London) and other main characters are wearing some surprising new faces as a number of local and professional theater groups stage their own versions of Charles Dickens' beloved holiday fable, "A Christmas Carol."
Two musicals, four traditional offerings, a children's improvisational piece, and a work staged by young disabled and non-disabled people are on this month's "A Christmas Carol" agenda.
Scrooge goes to Harlem to become a modern day slum landlord in the Arena Players' rocking adaptation, "Christmas Is Comin' Uptown," with music by Larry Sherman and book by Philip Rose and Peter Udell. The production is being presented by the group's Youtheatre.
"The show has nine or ten musical numbers and a little dancing," said director Sam Wilson,who has been president of the Arena Players for the past 39 years. "It features a jazzy kind of music and lyrics and there is a church gospel scene. We don't have a band but we do have a keyboardist to accompany the numbers.
"The three ghosts are in this version, but Christmas Past is a prizefighter and Christmas Present is a very efficient woman executive," Wilson said. "Christmas Future is tall,draped in black. Nobody wants to know him."
There are 25 actors and singers in the cast and no turkey.
"When Scrooge wakes up Christmas morning he decides to send dinner and presents over to Cratchit," Wilson said. "But the only place open is a Chinese restaurant. He sends it over anyway."
The New Century Theatre's production of Leslie Bricusse's musical,"Scrooge," on stage for the second year at the Spotlighters Theatre, follows the traditional story line. But director Mark Redfield in collaboration with playwright Stuart Voytilla has fleshed out the short Bricusse script.
There are 30 cast members including eight children. "We've added golden Dickens dialogue," said Redfield,who is also playing the title role. (It takes him an hour and a half to put on the makeup that will age him 40 years).
"Stuart put back Marley's entire scene from the original Dickens novel. It is really spooky," he said. "We are also using masks fashioned by Eric Supensky."
An original adaptation of the Dickens classic written and directed by a Laurel woman,Patricia Turney Foreman,is the current production of the Patuxent Theatre Company of Howard County.
"This 'Scrooge' is a non-musical in two acts set in America in the fifties," said artistic director and producer Gary Goodson. "The names are the same but Scrooge is now a pawnbroker. The dialogue is in the fifties vernacular," he said,"but some things are lifted from Dickens. Marley is more of a fun Beetlejuice character. remains with Scrooge throughout the entire piece."
There are 12 actors in the Patuxent production. "The Ghost of Christmas Past is a tiny ballerina," said Goodson. "The Ghost of Christmas Present comes out of the TV set and is a combination of June Cleaver and Donna Reed."
The Fells Point Corner Theatre is presently staging local writer Anthony Lane Hinkle's adaptation of the Christmas story in their new and larger first floor theater space.
The show with a 29 member cast, including 16 neighborhood children and teens (some from the theater's children's training classes), has been directed by Hinkle who has faithfully reproduced much of the Dickens novel. The production features many sound and visual effects including wind, thunder, chimes and fog.
"It is traditional down to the portrayal of the ghosts as described in the novel," said Beverly Sokel,artistic director of the Fells Point Corner Theater.
"Anthony tries to give the flavor and excitement of London in that period," said Sokel. "Those times and these times are very paralleled in the sense of people in want."
Another original adaptation of the famous story is on stage at Petrucci's Dinner Theatre as part of the company's Matinee Series. Now in its fourth year, the play was written and directed by professional actor Tony Reich.
The cast of 12 portrays 40 different roles. All the props are mimed. "The show is a literal adaptation done in storybook theater style similar to 'Nicholas Nickleby,' " said Reich. "Costumes and sets are very minimal. We use the people at the tables as shopkeepers and other characters to mentally and physically involve the audience."
The Nebraska Theatre caravan comes to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Dec. 23 with its cast of 32 actors and a four-piece chamber ensemble to offer their traditional version of "A Christmas Carol." Although the show is sold out,Meyerhoff Symphony Hall box office representatives say there might be last minute cancellations.