Tradition and change often live as contentious neighbors. Naturally, it's always clear what side things fall on ...

Take the Christmas tree, for example, that wild, new-fangled idea imported to unsuspecting Londoners from Germany right around the time that Charles Dickens' released his timeless story, "A Christmas Carol."

Ebenezer Scrooge (Phil Hopfer) has sent his employee Bob Cratchit (Saxon Butler) home at the end of the day on Christmas Eve with the reluctant gift of the following day off.

The character, our icon of miserliness, has no time for the joy of the season and cares only about counting his money.

His business partner, Jacob Marley (Michael Robbins), seven-years-to-the-day dead, was a like-minded soul. Marley's ghost, however, has other ideas, appearing in chains with warnings for Scrooge.

A trifecta of ghosts then unleashes its powers to show Scrooge the way to compassion.

Somewhere from within the hubbub created when tradition and change collide comes the Monterey Peninsula College Theatre Company with a musical adaptation of Dickens' "Carol" opening Friday at the Wharf Theater on Fisherman's Wharf.

Director Gary Bolen and playwright Richard Hellesen met at Cal State Fullerton when Bolen was a graduate student and Hellesen was an undergrad there. They stayed "sort of in touch" through Facebook until Hellesen's retelling of Dickens' 1843 story brought them together again in a real way.


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It will be the last production the company performs at their borrowed space in the Wharf Theatre; renovations on the Morgan Stock Stage are wrapping up.

Bolen pondered his temporary home, a smaller stage with limited wing space, and imagined setting the tale in a warehouse where people have come for shelter and end up enacting Dicken's famous work.

First, however, he'd have to discuss it with Hellesen. "I didn't want to get all director-y on him," said Bolen. "So I ran it by him on email with trepidation."

The response was a resounding yes.

But the setting twist is secondary to another innovation — music by David de Berry that underscores most of the script.

As it's pre-recorded, timing is crucial. "In a lot of ways, it's the trickiest thing I've ever done technically," Bolen noted.

Sometimes the music solidifies tone. The director spoke of a particular rehearsal where, after adding the music, cast members found deeper feeling in delivering their lines — or that they needed to stow the emotional development stuff and spit it out.

"There were a lot of light bulbs going on over people's heads that day."

Robbins is enamored of Hellesen's musical version of Dickens.

"It retains the flavor and language of Dickens that we know and love and adds a new dimension," said the veteran actor, who has played in "Carol" more than once, though never before as Marley.

"The lighting is very important here, and the makeup," he commented about his ghostly presence.

They are shooting for an otherworldly feel without being, as Robbins put it, "zombie-like." "I don't want to frighten the children either," he said. "It's a true family show."

Tradition and change continue their dance when considering this classic against current social contexts.

"The modern implications are deep, what with the economic hardships we've been experiencing," Bolen said. "The story becomes very, very simple and very poignant," he said. "You have to find the meaning of Christmas within yourself."

Too often, according to Bolen, Scrooge is portrayed as a one-dimensional villain who doesn't experience his miraculous change of heart until he sees his own grave at the very end.

"Really?" the director mocked, "The first two ghosts? Nothing?"

This adaptation takes a different tact. "There are flashes that he's made mistakes really quite early on." In this way, there is more to identify with in the character.

With all the folks forced to change because of these hard times, Bolen believes it's fertile ground for this story and for empathy to blossom.

If the message to get out today is the same — What matters is family, love, generosity — how might it best be delivered?

Said Bolen, "I think it would probably start as a social media movement and grow from there. (Then reach) traditional sources later."

Nonetheless, it's clear: Change is hard and we hold tight to tradition. Bolen lamented his own conclusions, "I miss the old days when somebody wrote a really good book."

Kathryn Petruccelli can be reached at montereybound@yahoo. GO!


THEATER OPENING
·What: Monterey Peninsula College Theatre Company presents Richard Hellesen's adaption of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"
·Where: New Wharf Theater, Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey
·When: Preview at 7:30p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, opening Friday, Dec. 7, and continuing at 7:30p.m. Thu- Sat with 2p.m. Sunday matinees through Dec. 23
·Tickets: $25 general, $22 seniors, $15 young adults (16-21) and military, and $10 children 15 and under; 24-hour advance purchase $20; online $18 for adults and seniors. Available at MPC box office (646-4213) Wednesdays 3-7p.m., Thur-Fri 3-5p.m., at the Wharf Theatre box office beginning 90 minutes prior to any performance or www.TicketGuys.com and www.mpctheatre.com; Camila de la Llata benefit Saturday, Dec 8; "Talk Back" with the director and playwright Sunday, Dec 16; pre-fixe dinner and theater package, $36
·Information: www.mpctheatre.com; 646-4213