BLOOMSBURG -Having seen a dozen retellings of "A Christmas Carol" by the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, it was a surprise that the regional professional theatre's current production could look and sound so fresh.
And much of the refreshing vibrancy is directly due to BTE's Richard Cannaday, who both adapted and directs this version of Charles Dickens' holiday classic.
"A Christmas Carol" has 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday matinees now through Dec. 23 at the Alvina Krause Theatre, 226 Center St.
I have seen every past and present male BTE member and one guest artist who has played Ebenezer Scrooge over the past three decades including Daniel Roth, who is the current reincarnation of the skinflint.
Roth, last portraying Scrooge in BTE's 2007 production, excels as the cold-hearted miser snarling "Bah, humbug!" and shares acting honors in this production with another former ensemble member, Tom Bryn.
And herein lies the innovative opening - not in Scrooge's frigid counting house on Christmas Eve in London, 1845, but seven years earlier as Jacob Marley sits a a table eating a solitary meal.
Eating, choking and falling face forward into his meal (perhaps from "an undigested piece of beef"), the audience is alerted by the Storyteller that "Marley was dead ... dead as a doornail."
Tom Bryn plays Scrooge's business partner who returns seven years after his death to warn Scrooge that he will be haunted by the Spirits of the Past, Present and Future.
Bryn, who portrayed Scrooge in 2005, is now a member of Actors' Equity Association.
He delves into his three roles, rattling his chains when Marley visits Scrooge, then switching hats (and wig) to play Scrooge's earliest employer Mr. Fezziwig, and finally as Old Joe, the scavenger of some recently deceased despised old man.
The adaptation is briefer, shaving at least 30 minutes off of other versions by cutting back on Fezziwig's party, which invited some audience members onto stage for a bit of dancing.
Also gone are carolers, and the long segment of pleas from "want" and "ignorance," which unnecessarily bogged down Act II heading into the heartwarming "God bless us, everyone!" finale.
With Laurie McCants as the Storyteller and doubling in other roles, "A Christmas Carol" moves briskly along with the familiar characters: Scrooge's jovial nephew Fred (David Menich), Bob Crachit (Eric Wunsch), his wife, (McCambridge Dowd-Whipple) with community youngsters rotating roles as the Crachit children, including Tiny Tim.
The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present are decidedly untraditional: a little girl dressed in white ballerina dress who has a booming pre-recorded voice is Christmas Past, and a 12-foot-high colorful "puppet" with moving mouth, eyebrows and eyes gets an appreciative "aah!" response from the audience when first revealed as Christmas Present.
The same mute specter of doom and gloom wrapped in a massive shroud of sorts is wisely retained as Christmas Future from earlier productions. Period-appropriate costuming and effective sound and lighting with haze adds to the atmosphere in this highly technical production.
Kudos to Richard Cannaday, who directs "A Christmas Carol," and to the cast and crew for breathing new life into the old miser as he is transformed into a new kind-hearted man.