The trappings of an old-time radio broadcast—the ingenious sound-effects guy, the versatile performers with the endless array of character voices, the flashing "Applause" sign in the studio— are what make Cygnet Theatre's traditional holiday shows such good, corny fun. After six years of staging "live radio broadcasts" of It's A Wonderful Life, Cygnet's trying on A Christmas Carol for size.
It's a fine fit: We all know the story. The performers get to ham up a variety of London accents, and Tiny Tim Godblesses us all at the end. (There's also a "White Christmas" audience sing-along at the end, though what that has to do with Dickens, I'm not sure.)
Tom Stephenson is a booming Scrooge, and among the ensemble, Maggie Carney is notably impressive with her repertoire of hilarious voices and facial expressions. But the between-story commercials for shaving cream and cheese balls just about steal the show, maybe because they're something we haven't seen before. When it comes to the actual show, even if the material is Dickens, it's just not that exciting to watch actors read from a script for two hours. The more commercial jingles (score by Billy Thompson), the merrier.
A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 30 at Cygnet Theatre. $29-$54. cygnettheatre.com
Over at the Lyceum Stage at Downtown's Horton Plaza, San Diego Repertory Theatre is also getting into the holiday act. The Rep's show is more of the quick-change vaudevillian variety. What the Reduced Shakespeare Company calls The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) feels about 15 minutes longer than an abridged show should feel. Comprising a series of mildly subversive bits, it labors through an audience-participation (some in the audience are reluctant) "12 Days of Christmas" and a no-holds barred reenacting of the First Christmas. In the latter, the manger animals (like all the characters, played by Michael Faulkner, Mick Orfe and Dustin Sullivan) deserve most of the laughs. There are a couple of naughty nuggets: a phone call to an outsourced-to-India Santa, a terribly un-P.C. "White Christmas" and a little (actually too brief ) Christmas rapping. That's rapping—get it?
The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) runs through Dec. 23. $33-$52. sandiegorep.org
An Unscripted Carol: Five actors think on their toes and create comedic theater on the spot in this improvisational holiday performance inspired by Dickens. Presented by North Coast Rep and Impro Theatre, it runs Dec. 17 through 20 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
White Christmas: It's the 1954 movie, adapted for the stage and loaded with Irving Berlin tunes. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it runs Dec. 13 through 23 at the Birch North Park Theatre. sdmt.org
The Littlest Angel: A boy dies and goes to Heaven, then sneaks back to Earth to retrieve a special box. Runs Dec. 15, 16 and 22 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Once Upon a Wedding: Zaniness abounds during a wedding gone horribly wrong, and it does so while patrons dine aboard a boat making its way around Mission Bay, beginning at the Bahia Resort Hotel. Runs on various dates through Dec. 13. onceuponaweddingthemusical.com
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Dec. 15 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown, and then it will open again for a run from Jan. 10 through Feb. 17. lambsplayers.org
The Weight of Matter: Part of a larger evening of "queer art and stories" called We Are Here, produced by Lotus Theatre, this staged-workshop play deals with homophobia in a Minnesota school. Through Dec. 15 at the Canvass for a Cause office in Hillcrest. lotustheatrestory.com
Hickorydickory: What happens when everyone has an internal "mortal" clock that ticks until death, but you can actually hear yours and you know when it's going to stop? Through Dec. 16 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
In Our Home: An original musical about a family that spends Christmas with a couple of soldiers during the Vietnam War. Through Dec. 16 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: It's the hotly anticipated world premiere of a musical, based on the 2002 album of the same name by The Flaming Lips, about a girl who must choose between two guys and—you guessed it—battle some pink robots. Through Dec. 16 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
Chicago: A Speakeasy Cabaret: A musical set in the 1920s about two murderous, fame-seeking women who wind up on death row. Ticket price includes light food and drink. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it runs through Dec. 22 at Urbn Cntr 4the Arts (3708 Sixth Ave. in Hillcrest). iontheatre.com
Persuasion: In a world-premiere adaptation of Jane Austen's novel, a woman struggles with the return of a man—once poor, now rich—whose marriage proposal she turned down years earlier. Through Dec. 22 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
A Taffeta Christmas: A successful 1950s girl group makes a triumphant return to their hometown in Indiana for a special concert. Through Dec. 23 at Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged): The Reduced Shakespeare Company cracks wise about all manner of holiday traditions. Through Dec. 23 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. reducedshakespeare.com
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: A mean ol' beast gets a lesson in kindness when he meets his match in Whoville. Through Dec. 29 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
A Christmas Carole: The live radio play version of the classic tale, adapted by Cygnet Theatre's Sean Murray, is an annual tradition. Through Dec. 30 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. cygnettheatre.com
Christmas on My Mind: Stranded by a snowstorm in a cabin in the woods, some travelers pass the time with singing and storytelling. Through Dec. 30 at Lamb's Players Theatre. lambsplayers.org
Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings: A holiday sequel to the oft-performed musical focused on a 1950s-style singing group that returns from the afterlife after being killed in a traffic accident. Through Dec. 30 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net