Whether it's on the screen or the stage, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is the gift that keeps on giving. Year after year. Adaptation after adaptation. Sometimes the gift is coal, leaving one vowing to never read, see or hear the story again. Sometimes, however, the gift is bright, shiny and as welcome as tinsel dangling from a tree branch.
Cygnet Theatre in Old Town has demonstrated its high style for staging Dickens' classic the past eight years, with a fun "live radio broadcast" of A Christmas Carol that was perennially the best of the many holiday-themed shows in town. This year, Artistic Director Sean Murray has shaken things up, adapting a new, more traditional stage version, featuring music composed by the talented Billy Thompson and incorporating artistic theatrical elements including pantomime and puppetry.
The Victorian-dressed cast includes faces familiar from the radio-broadcast shows: Melinda Gilb, Melissa Fernandes, David McBean, Patrick McBride, Maggie Carney and, again as Scrooge, Tom Stephenson. (Charles Evans Jr. joins the ensemble this year.) All but Stephenson play multiple roles, with McBean doing awesome duty as Marley's ghost—the arrival of which is the production's scariest sequence—and the towering Ghost of Christmas Present. When the actors aren't speaking, they're pantomiming or manipulating props on stage to move the story along. It moves swiftly, too, as a good deal of Dickens' layered plot is cut out. In fact, the script in general departs liberally from the novel. But when it comes to modern adaptations and staying true to the book, well, that ship sailed long ago.
The use of puppets (operated by cast members) to portray the Ghost of Christmas Past and assorted minor characters requires some suspension of disbelief, but this is a ghost story after all. It's unfortunate that the Tiny Tim puppet looks like a Marx brother, but at least his part is tiny.
Music is at the heart of this Cygnet production, and its stately beauty is guaranteed to put even the Scrooges in the audience in a holiday mood. Get to the Old Town Theatre early and enjoy the cast members' caroling.
A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 28. $29-$59. cygnettheatre.com
Orpheus & Eurydice : The Trip, an experimental theater group, is telling the Greek myth of the musician and poet Orpheus and his wife Eurydice through a mix of online content (at thetripthe
ater.net) and live performance, which runs Dec. 17 through 21 in Arthur Wagner Dance Studio 3 at UCSD. thetriptheater.net
6 : Written and directed by Ion Theatre's Claudio Raygoza, this play focuses on a documentary filmmaker who searches for her son, a climatologist, as a huge hurricane charges toward the Texas coast. Through Dec. 20 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Bell, Book & Candle : A witch living in 1950s Greenwich Village casts a spell on her neighbor and, in the process, risks losing her magical powers. Through Dec. 20 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
The MOMologues : Four women talk about the overwhelming, exhausting and often hilarious trials and tribulations of early motherhood. Presented by Different Stages, it runs through Dec. 20 at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights. differentstages.biz
Naughty or Nice : Circle Circle dot dot presents two collections of holiday-themed plays by local playwrights. One is for folks of all ages; one is for the adults. They run through Dec. 20 at the 10th Avenue Arts Center in East Village. circle2dot2.com
The 1940s Radio Hour : A little New York radio station produces a lively musical broadcast for the troops during World War II. Through Dec. 21 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
A Tuna Christmas : Intrigue is afoot amid the annual Christmas Yard Display Contest in Tuna, Texas. Presented by Point Loma Actors Theatre, it runs through Dec. 21 at Point Loma Playhouse. pointlomaactors.com
Mistletoe, Music & Mayhem : A musical sketch-comedy show that has some fun with the holiday season. Through Dec. 21 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
The Second City's Nut-Cracking Holiday Revue : The Second City sketch-comedy troupe returns to San Diego with a holiday-focused show. Through Dec. 21 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Tru : This one-man play finds Truman Capote alone in his apartment with pills, booze and desserts. Through Dec. 21 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
White Christmas : San Diego Musical Theatre presents its annual stage adaptation of the classic 1954 film about a couple of Army buddies who become a music duo and fall for a pair of sisters. Runs through Dec. 21 at the North Park Theatre. sdmt.org
Woman in the Mirror, A Dancer's Journey : A one-woman, autobiographical show starring Michael Jackson impersonator Devra Gregory. Through Dec. 21 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. devasmj.com
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas : A total jerk is surprised when his tiny, wretched heart grows by a factor of three. Through Dec. 27 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
A Christmas Carol : This is Cygnet Theatre's own unique, family-friendly, musical adaptation of the holiday classic about the transformation of one Ebenezer Scrooge. Through Dec. 28 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
The Nutcracker : This is not the ballet! This is an updated musical-theater adaptation of the holiday classic, about a little girl who goes on a fantastical adventure as she grieves for her deceased brother. Through Dec. 31 at New Village Arts in Solana Beach. newvillagearts.org
Win Place or Die My Jockeys are Killing Me : Mystery Café's latest comic-caper dinner-theater production is set at the Thoroughbred Club at Upson Down Race Track. It's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net