What is Christmas without at least one version or another - whether movie, book or play - of "A Christmas Carol?" The story is timeless. A frumpy old man discovers the real meaning of Christmas.

Brigham Young University's production gives a different and short look at Ebenezer Scrooge's journey toward a change of heart.Scrooge is brought to life by BYU drama professor Charles Metten, and life is indeed the word. As he (and each of the characters) narrates his own story, Metten elegantly leads the audience into his heart as it melts.

The scarce set design, by Karl Pope, forces concentration onto the words and message.

And there is plenty of time to ponder that message.

When the audience sang "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" with the cast to end the evening, it was barely past 8:30 p.m. Some people got up and looked at their watches, wondering whether or not the show was really over.

Yet the importance of the message lingers. In the program, director Harold Oaks said, "We often forget the ending of the story, which transforms this poor soul into a person who knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man did." And, indeed, the ghosts of the Christmases past, present and future were less foreboding than in other productions,and much of the impact of Scrooge's friend Jacob Marley, who rises from the dead to admonish Scrooge to be a better person, is created in the dialogue and not from the visual effects.

Robert Paxton Jr. as Bob Cratchit was bright and literate and moved smoothly from narrator to role and back. He is especially moving as he convinces his family to toast Scrooge despite their obvious reticence.

The whole cast, with the exception of Metten and bright, blond Mitchell Warner as Tiny Tim, had more than one role. And, except when a few lines were lost to ghostly sounds, a few garbled 19th-century English accents and rushed dialogue, it was a good opening night.

This is not a production for those who expect Albert Finney's "Scrooge" and friends to break out into 45 verses of "Thank You Very Much," in an elaborate set of 19th-century Cheapside.

But if you want to feel the Christmas spirit of giving and retain some memories of a very happy and changed, instead of evil, Scrooge, BYU's production fits the bill and is worth every penny.

And wasn't the memorable Scrooge by Jim Backus' Mr. Magoo only one hour long?