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A Christmas Carol

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ere are only so many ways to tell the old story of Ebenezer and his annoying late-night visitors, but this company has found a worthy approach with the premiere of Thorin Alexander and Max Kinberg's freshly appealing musical version. With whimsical modern-day costuming by the prolific Esther Blodgett and a set shared with TCR's concurrent mounting of Twelfth Night, the versatile two-level stage comes alive with what, hopefully, will become an annual holiday offering from this industrious theatre company. Set in the present, Alexander's book pays homage to Dickens in all the right places--what would any Christmas Carol be without those undigested bits of beef and revelers boiled in their own oil with a sprig of holly in their hearts?--but it updates the classic with sly modern references to be enjoyed by adults as their progeny sit caught up in the magical tale as only children could. The play begins as Ebenezer sits on a park bench, reading the Fortune cover story declaring him "Miser of the Year"; Ebie and his Fan fall in love at the Fezziwig's Hanukkah party. Scrooge is also given a saucy housekeeper (the delightfully Dickensian Holly Jeanne, doubling as Mrs. Fezziwig), who can roll her eyes at the old reprobate and later look properly shocked when her reinspired employer triples her salary, offering benefits and vacation pay. Under Hope Alexander's nontraditional direction, Donald Bishop is an appropriately low-key Scrooge, abstaining from the wrung hands and sour faces typically associated with the role. Bishop offers a more introspective Ebenezer, making his descent--from a happy blank slate of a young man (played touchingly by Michael Donahue) to a cynical old duffer--something to which everyone can relate. He is complemented admirably by Alan Altshuld's wonderfully goofy Jacob Marley, Nora Linden's ballsy Ghost of Christmas Present, and the rubber-faced Stephen Brewster, who looks a like a cross between Stan Laurel and Guilietta Massina as the Ghost of Christmas Past. The large ensemble features performers at various stages of mastery, but it has a collectively infectious energy and sincerity, making this a treat for the entire family. Santa appears in person for matinees to greet the kiddies--although he was worried on opening afternoon, that the infamous NoHo parking control officers would take issue with his reindeer. Still, it is Kinsberg's score that sets this Carol furthest apart from the many others. The upbeat songs, enlivened by Alexander's clever lyrics, are sufficiently charming and fun, and the haunting ballads beautifully enhance the story. This is what guarantees this version an enduring future--songs that leave the audience humming as they exit, smiles warming their faces even more than does the SoCal Decembe

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