Children's Theatre's 'Scrooge' is brief, broad and buoyant

I'm not the most unbiased judge of any rendition of "A Christmas Carol," because the worst adaptation I ever saw brought tears to my eyes by the middle of Ebenezer Scrooge's reformation. (That was the all-black "Comin' Uptown," a dance-heavy stage version starring the great but impossibly miscast Gregory Hines.)

And sure enough, the ducts began to flow about an hour into "Scrooge: The Musical," the 90-minute version running this month at ImaginOn.

Children's Theatre of Charlotte has two productions side by side there, this one and Tarradiddle Players' "The Littlest Angel" (which I didn't see) next door. "Scrooge" offers an agreeable and festive kind of Dickens Lite, with songs that aren't quite from Leslie Bricusse's top drawer - that would be "Oliver!" - but often get close.

This Scrooge (Mark Sutton) is never ferocious but merely sour and grasping. The ghosts arouse curiosity in him, rather than fear. He has an ironic side Dickens didn't anticipate, saying, "I'm a martyr to me own generosity" and "The trouble with you, Cratchit, is that all you think about is money!"

He needs to rejoin the human race, of course, but he doesn't seem to be on the other side of an abyss from it anymore. Once he begins to soften, it's hard to believe him when he backslides into bitterness.

Even Marley (Dennis Delamar), with his face the color of a wet tombstone and his chains wound tight, is played more for humor. What can one do but laugh when, late in the show, he greets Scrooge in Hell accompanied by hooded, red-eyed devils who look like the tiny scavengers in "Star Wars"?

The show has a tendency to preach, which won't bother youthful audiences. Dickens left it to Scrooge to grow at his own pace and expected us to follow him; here, shortly after each revelation, another character (usually one of the ghosts) points a moral bluntly.

And the growth is personal, not social. The Ghost of Christmas Present no longer pulls the starving, wolfish figures of want and ignorance from beneath a robe and bids Scrooge beware. Instead, he pours the milk of human kindness into a vessel and bids Scrooge drink.

The entire production, directed with kick-up-your-heels energy by Craig Kolkebeck, is a handsome one, with Bob Croghan's set pieces serving many functions and supporting actors holding down many roles.

Susan Roberts Knowlson makes an ethereal Ghost of the Past, then bounces off into the chorus. James Dracy is not only a booming Ghost of the Present but the puppet operator of the sepulchral Ghost of Yet to Come. (He also plays a puppeteer running a Punch and Judy show, which would have been quite a hit in 1843. See Punch throw a baby out a window!)

Compression hasn't hurt the 1992 stage musical, which was adapted in turn from the 1970 movie that was nominated for best song ("Thank You Very Much") and best song score. (It lost to The Beatles' "Let It Be.")

Emotions come and go quickly, but we're so used to these events that most of us can follow them without trying. And however familiar they may be, don't be surprised if there's a catch in your throat once or twice along the way.