Your heart skips a beat as Charles Dickens’ 166-year-old character, Ebenezer Scrooge, approaches his dark and dingy door. You know what’s coming because you’ve seen it and read it a hundred times. And boom, there he is, Jacob Marley, Scrooge's long-dead business partner, his ghostly face where the doorknocker should be.
In Pocket Sandwich Theatre’s production of Ebenezer Scrooge, Marley (played by Daniel Baugh) glows in fluorescent green and howls “Scroooooge!” and then disappears as fast as he appears. It's a good beginning for a version of the familiar story that, aside from some technical difficulties and a barebones set, is blessed with talent that deserves your attention.
In its 28th consecutive season at this theater, this musical adaptation of Dickens’ 1843 A Christmas Carol, directed by Andy Long, is much more serious and traditional than the Pocket's usual popcorn-throwing comedy frenzies staged throughout the rest of the year. Staying true to the plot of the story, the show incorporates traditional Christmas carols sung between scenes by various members of the cast.
It's a production that depends on its actors for the textures, sounds and colors of merry old England. The set design by Rodney Dobbs is just a painted background of a village, with little furniture and few props out front.
But boring scenery aside, Baugh’s performance as Jacob Marley is enough to create Dickens' ghost story atmosphere. Baugh’s burdened swagger, haunting tone and weary facial expressions beneath heavy black and white makeup are haunting and appropriately scary.
As Ebenezer Scrooge, David H.M. Lambert, who's been playing Pocket's Christmas curmudgeon for more than a decade, fixes his face in an angry scowl. Wiping his eyes while viewing past, present and future scenes from Scrooge’s life, Lambert does some fine emotional recall. His transformation from hardcore Humbug to the enlightened Scrooge when he wakes from his nightmare lets the audience fall in love with his character's newfound heart.
Alongside the experienced actors, however, are some annoying tics among the younger cast members. Jad B. Saxton has infused her role as The Ghost of Christmas Past with jerky gestures and angry yelling. This Christmas Past causes Headache Present.
With its Christmas songs, life lessons and happy ending, this production is a traditional, if sentiment-heavy, one that the whole family will enjoy. So what if there's no popcorn on the menu this time. At least once a year, Pocket Sandwich Theatre likes serving a little Old English cheese.