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God bless everyone of us who sees this marvelous production

There are a number of familiar entertainments that crop up unfailingly during the holiday season. Any time after Thanksgiving, audiences can count on multiple versions of The Nutcracker Suite, TV showings and live versions of White Christmas, It's A Wonderful Life, and more recently Love, Actually. But none has endured as endearingly nor as long as Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol. And Baltimore is so lucky to have The Chesapeake Shakespeare's annual presentation once again this year, with some updated elements that make it especially heartwarming to local audiences.

I have covered this particular company's rendition of this classic staple of the season more than once, and I tell you, I am simply running out of superlatives to describe what a lovely start to my holiday season it is. Personally, I am all in favor of slightly abridged versions of the classics like this one. The undeniable appeal of this tale of personal redemption at the hands of a trio of kooky spooks who show mean ol' miser Ebeneezer Scrooge the error of his niggardly (for pete's sake, get your head out of the PC patrol and look up what that word means) ways. But in the past, some tellings went on waaaayyyy too long - the tale ain't that deep, folks, and it benefits a great deal by focusing on the main themes while loosing none of its universal appeal.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has built a reputation based on their commitment to a level of excellence in everything they do in their elegant and welcoming facility in downtown Baltimore. I'm not a fan of the flip up seats, but every other aspect of the theatre is outstanding. Director Shanara Gabrielle has constructed a marvelous production from CSC Company Member Laura Rocklyn's well-written adaptation. Mx. Rocklyn makes some bold changes, including a gender switch that actually makes perfect sense. Mx. Gabrielle keeps the action moving well for the most part, though there were occasional bits that did drag a little. But they made excellent choices overall and the finished product is most impressive. One of the most surprising elements they introduce is the addition of a good deal of very period music and dances. Musical Director Grace Srinivasan and Choreographer Madalaina D'Angelo did beautiful work with the cast, adding an unexpected, delightful component. The well designed and quite functional set by Mollie Singe that suggests several different locals is well lit by Minjoo Kim's lighting design, and Kristina Lambdin's costumes are spot on for the period, though the urchins and the Cratchit family looked awfully tidy given their impoverished circumstances.

The supporting cast does a terrific job of complimenting the story, doing a superb job with their acting that is aided expertly by their terrific singing, dancing, and in one case (by Ellen Cattle) some beautifully done violin work. The Cratchit family kids are all well suited to their roles, as are the rest of the cast playing multiple roles.

Puppeteer Chester Stacy's Ghost of Christmas Future is an inventive and appropriately scary conception. Lauren Erica Jakson glides and glows in her lighted gown as the Ghost of Christmas Past. And Troy Hopper-Haines never disappoints. He is in his element as the Bacchus inspired Ghost of Christmas Present. In a number of other musical offerings during the play, his rich bari-tenor voice fills the theatre with warmth.

Two other noteworthy performances are Lauren Davis as Francis, Scrooge's niece and Emily Zinski as Mrs. Cratchit. Both actors performed their parts with expert precision and heart.

Bob Cratchit as portrayed by Samuel Richie is practically perfect (oh, wait - that's a Mary Poppins reference though no less accurate.) His open, friendly demeanor, the eternally optimistic outlook, the wide-eyed innocence of his belief in the basic goodness of everyone is perfectly in keeping with the character's entire likeability.

Gregory Burgess returns for the eight time as the irascible Ebeneezer (who in the world would name a child Ebeneezer?) Scrooge. Whether he is bellowing his displeasure at the world in general and Christmas specifically with his famous Bah Humbugs! or giggling with glee over some remembered incident from his youth, Burgess is a consummate actor who, despite repeated outings in the same role, brings a fresh focus each year he recreates what is becoming his signature role of the holiday season.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is an absolute treasure and such an important asset to the theatre community of Baltimore. This holiday season, and year round, supporting these institutions to ensure that we have them around for generations to come is indeed the spirit of giving that will sustain us all. Happy Holidays!

A Christmas Carol runs until December 23 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore. Click here for information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Gregory Burgess as Ebenezer Scrooge in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's A Christmas Carol. Photo by Alec Wild.

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Timoth David Copney has decades of experience in theatre. A classically trained dancer, he is a veteran of several Equity tours, a Canadian television series, and has worked on more than 50 product... (read more about this author)

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