The problem with traditions is that they’re too easy to take for granted.

“A Christmas Carol” has been so performed, adapted, parodied, musicalized and flat-out ripped off that you can sometimes forget what a wonderful story Charles Dickens created. However, the annual N.C. Shakespeare Festival presentation makes it all seem fresh, and the first of its 10 SchoolFest performances enraptured students from 8 to 18.

The plot, of course, centers on Ebenezer Scrooge (Allan Edwards), a tightfisted, coldhearted moneylender who receives an opportunity to redeem himself on Christmas Eve by examining his life with the Ghosts of Christmases Past (Cynthia Barrett), Present (Robert Beatty) and Future (David Adamson).

The cast, directed by Pedro Silva, is in top form, and Louis Rackoff’s adaptation of the story continues to weave its magic. Technically, the show is equally excellent, with Gary Dartt’s set, Christine Turbitt’s costumes and Jennifer O’Kelly’s lighting bringing Victorian London to life.

Edwards returns to the role of Scrooge and again proves his mastery of the role. Again, because the character has become iconic, it’s possible to overlook how demanding a part it is. Edwards goes from “bah, humbug” misanthrope to “giddy as a schoolboy” penitent with such believability and ease that casual viewers might not appreciate the talent that range takes.

Graham Smith is also something special as Scrooge’s mistreated clerk Bob Cratchit, giving the audience a man whose warm generosity of spirit hides an anguished heart. He’s nicely matched by his pragmatic wife (Cinny Strickland). Thomas Gooding is the benevolent Tiny Tim.

Beatty simply exudes joy as the Ghost of Christmas Present, sprinkling townspeople with holiday spirit with a “yaaaah!” of enjoyment. Barrett is a sweet and giggly Ghost of Christmas Past, and a silent Adamson is an ominous — but not too scary for little children — Ghost of Christmas Future. Herbert Mark Parker gives Jacob Marley’s Ghost an appropriate forlorn air. That all four of these actors play specific double roles adds another touch of enchantment to the show.

Music (scored by David Bishop) plays an important part in this “A Christmas Carol” and is nicely led by carolers Mark Armstrong, Pauline Cobrda and Jerry Hatmaker. Armstrong also has a nice turn as a schoolmaster to young Scrooge (Jonathan Cobrda), and Cobrda and Adamson give the Fezziwigs an especially festive air.

At a time when anger and divisiveness seem to glare from every corner of the globe, it’s such a pleasure to enjoy a tale whose message is simply that we become better, more fulfilled people if we reach out into our community with a smile, a kind word or a helping hand.

Leslie Mizell (LAMizell@aol.com) is a freelance contributor.

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