It is a story that defines the nature of the Christmas spirit, shunning materialism and celebrating goodwill toward men. It reminds us there's a price to pay for selfishness and magnificent rewards for the kind at heart.
This holiday season, the Sam Houston State University Department of Theatre and Dance will once again raise the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future as they present Israel Horovitz's stage adaptation of Dickens' timeless tale, "A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley."
The Mainstage Theatre production, set for 8 p.m. Dec. 4-7 and 2 p.m. Dec. 7, will be the first SHSU theatrical Christmas production in recent history, according to Maureen McIntyre, SHSU Theatre instructor and director of the play.
"We are hoping to help the community and the university to start the season with a wonderful and visual Christmas present and a reminder of what the season is truly about, the gift of giving oneself," McIntyre said.
Dickens traditionalists won't be disappointed because Horovitz's version of "A Christmas Carol" is true to the original story, McIntyre said. The story veers only slightly in that the role of Marley, Scrooge's undead former partner, has been expanded to carry the narrative.
The play, set on Christmas Eve in mid-19th century London, chronicles the extraordinary spiritual transformation of the miserly old curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge, into a kind and caring gentleman. His profound and initially recalcitrant change of heart is aided by the visits of three Christmas spirits who take the bitter old man on a journey through his life and beyond.
The SHSU production promises to provide the audience with a visual feast, incorporating a huge, elaborate set, a wondrous wardrobe of Victorian era costumes, gratuitous use of special effects and a few "hidden surprises."
The set, designed by Jerry S. Hooker, a member of SHSU's theatre faculty, is constructed around a giant, German-style clock set to herald the arrival of each of the three Christmas spirits -- Scrooge's supernatural guides through time.
The stage cleverly employs "every possible trick of theatre technology," McIntyre said. The stage hands will utilize wagons, turntables, flying scenery, projection screens, trap doors, traveling curtains, transparent scrim effects, Plexiglass, fog machines, elevators, and even a bit of robotics, to create the distorted world of Ebenezer Scrooge.
This theatrical legerdemain will allow the play run nonstop, without pausing for scene changes.
Stage hands have been working fervently to put the finishing touches on a variety of special effects adding fog to the London evening and fright to things that go bump in the night.
"There are some spooky moments in the story," McIntyre warned. "After all, there are seven ghosts in the play."
The ghosts, Scrooge, Marley, and of course, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, will be convincingly costumed in garments designed by Kristina Hanssen, a member of SHSU's theatre faculty.
Sewing machines in SHSU's costume department have been humming for weeks as student costume designers and constructors stitch together over 40 garments blending historic reality with a bit of modern romantic fantasy.
In creating the costumes for "Scrooge and Marley," Hanssen researched English clothing from 1790 through 1843.
"Since Scrooge travels back in time to visit people in the past, there needed to be a visual difference in the character's clothing between the past and present," explained McIntyre.
This difference was created by choosing specific colors and styles: lighter, warmer colors are utilized for happier, kinder times; fashions from the 1790s for Scrooge's school years; styles from 1800-1810 for his 20s' and contemporary garments, dating from around the 1840s, for the present and immediate future.
Inspiration for the spirits' costumes came from a variety of sources, McIntyre explained. The Ghost of Christmas Past was based on drawings of ghosts, the Christmas Present spirit will have a striking resemblance to Santa Clause, and Halloween death masks established the look for the spooky Ghost of Christmas Future.
The cast of "A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley" includes almost 40 players who were selected during auditions held in August.
"I think this is possibly the strongest ensemble cast we have ever had," said McIntyre. "They are all so enthusiastic and working very hard."
The lead roles of Scrooge and Marley will be played by SHSU thespians Mark Jeter and Todd Porter.
Both are veterans of other SHSU productions and, according to the director, "marvelous young actors."
While most of the other lead roles will be played by upperclassmen from the Theatre Department, she said, a few of the lead roles are going to some "very talented freshmen actors."
Children in the play, including Tiny Tim, will be portrayed by five young actors recruited from the Huntsville area.
Tiny Tim's part will be played by Ren Kiser, whom McIntyre described as "adorable."
Though "Scrooge and Marley" is not a musical, the production has a great deal of music in it; almost all of it, Christmas carols sung by the cast.
As a special treat, recordings of Christmas music, written by Dickens and performed on period instruments, will be played for patrons arriving prior to curtain time.
"We are very excited about this show and hope to make it a special Christmas gift to the community," McIntyre said. "We hope that it will tickle, entertain and warm the heart."
Tickets for "A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley" are $7 and may be purchased through the SHSU Theatre Center ticket office at 409-294-1339. Tickets for students and senior citizens are $5. Group ticket sales, purchased in blocks of 20, are $5 each and must be paid for 24 hours in advance of the performance date.