One of the morals of “A Christmas Carol” is that we should make good use of the time that we have.
To focus the audience on that point, North Shore Music Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’ classic tale features several clocks prominently in its set.
But for actors David Coffee and Cheryl McMahon, who are playing their respective roles for the 25th time with this production, a heightened awareness of time just comes with their costumes.
Coffee first played Scrooge in his native Texas in 1973 and took over the part at North Shore Music Theatre in 1992, after visiting Beverly with a touring company.
He has been delighting North Shore audiences with his performance ever since and said that his upbringing as an adopted, only child gives him unique insight into the character.
Scrooge is a tightfisted workaholic with little feeling for his fellow man and only learns what he is missing in life after being visited by three ghosts, who show him the past, present and future.
“I could relate to the loneliness of him as a child,” Coffee said. “I’ve always been married to my work. I’ve never been married, and have dealt with love and loss, so I can associate with that part. There’s just a lot of things that I could tie in with him. At the same time, I love this time of year, I love Christmas. The end of the show is great for me to play, because that’s how I really feel.”
Coffee’s theatrical skill became evident in second grade, when he lip-synced all the parts on an album soundtrack for “The Wizard of Oz,” and his teacher told him he should take acting lessons.
While he has been playing Scrooge for 25 years, Coffee has been acting for 50 years, after landing his first professional role at age 11 as Portly Otter in “The Wind in the Willows.”
The makeup artist on that production would later create masks for the film “Planet of the Apes,” Coffee said, and was also part of the fake film operation that went to Iran to free American hostages, as depicted in the 2012 film “Argo.”
“When I saw the film, I went, ‘Wait a minute ...’” Coffee said.
McMahon, who grew up in Arlington and lives in Marblehead, has played Mrs. Dilber and Mrs. Fezziwig since “A Christmas Carol’s” first year at North Shore Music Theatre, in 1989.
Since then, there have been two seasons when the show wasn’t staged there, and McMahon missed two other seasons, as well. But she remembers that auditions were very competitive for local actors back in 1989.
That’s because North Shore Music Theatre was originally part of a circuit that hosted traveling shows — like the ones that brought Coffee to town — instead of producing their own shows with local talent. But “A Christmas Carol” changed all that.
“That was a remarkable event, that audition,” McMahon said. “Up to that point, Boston actors had not had the opportunity to audition at North Shore. It was our opportunity to throw our hats in the ring.”
She jumped for joy when she got the part of Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s housekeeper, who must deal with her boss’s cold and demanding nature.
“She knows her place, but it’s hard to endure, especially at Christmastime, with the rest of the world lighthearted,” McMahon said. “Here she is with this curmudgeon who makes the task so difficult.”
Mrs. Dilber turns the tables in a scene where Scrooge sees the world as it could be after he is dead, when she coldly sells off his belongings.
“Then at the end, when all is resolved, he treats her with kindness and respect, and this is befuddling to her,” McMahon said. “It paves the way for a renewed relationship between these two that could be filled by admiration and respect. That is remarkably satisfying for me, to be able to play that entire 360 degrees, as it is for David.”
McMahon said that there are a few plays that she has appeared in multiple times during her career, including “The Music Man” and a screwball comedy called “Lend Me a Tenor,” but nothing to compare with her long run in “A Christmas Carol.”
But far from causing her performance to grow stale, she sees these repeated appearances as a chance to be creative.
“I’m not the same person I was a year ago or 25 years ago,” she said. “I’ve had my own life experiences that I treasure, and this novel is so timely and so genius that we find something new in it every time we take a look. There’s something new, something beautiful to discover between the music and special effects, and the fact that it is in the round is quite a unique experience.”
Coffee agrees that the round stage at North Shore Music Theatre, which this production of “A Christmas Carol” was designed to exploit, is key to the audience’s experience.
“I always say, there’s something to me that’s so wonderfully tribal about people sitting in a circle in the dark being told a story,” he said. “It’s like sitting around a campfire.”
Coffee said that the production staff spent a full year creating the show in 1989 and has been working on it ever since, bringing in directors who gave the story some comic flair and hiring composers to create an original score, which includes instrumental accompaniment throughout.
“It sets the mood so beautifully, the score does, and it keeps us on top of it,” Coffee said. “Everything is tied to it — it’s like floating on the wind, being picked up and carried along with it.”
McMahon said that the adjustments that have been made over time to this theatrical production of “A Christmas Carol” are what distinguish it from film versions, which never change.
But she does compare the story of “A Christmas Carol” to one classic holiday film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which a man played by Jimmy Stewart gets to see what the world would be like without him.
“They’re both about ‘what if?’” McMahon said. “What if I wasn’t born? What if I hadn’t been there? With Dickens and Scrooge — what if he had a change of heart, what if he married Belle? What if? We live those questions in our own lives.”
IF YOU GO
What: “A Christmas Carol”
When: Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 2 p.m.
Where: North Shore Music Theatre, 61 Dunham Road, Beverly
How much: $64 to $79, with limited youth tickets (18 and younger) for $35. Children under 4 not permitted.
More information: 978-232-7200 or www.nsmt.org