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Theater Review: Theater companies get in the spirit of 'A Christmas Carol'

If "A Christmas Carol" is your holiday show of choice, theater productions from Pasadena and South Pasadena to Glendale, Burbank and Atwater Village this season present audiences with a surprising choice of approaches to Charles Dickens' richly told, ever-relevant Victorian-era tale of ghostly spirits and redemption.

Independent Shakespeare Co., producers of the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival and recipient of the L.A. Drama Critics Circle's 2015 Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence, is reprising its theatrical adaptation, "A Christmas Carol With Charles Dickens," inspired by the author's own 19th-century presentations of his work as he toured Britain and the United States. David Melville, the company's co-founder, again stars as Dickens giving a public reading of "Carol," and plays most of the story's roles as well, accompanied by Julia Aks as a young American actress who joins Dickens on stage.

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This 10th anniversary production, staged by Artistic Director Melissa Chalsma, takes place in two separate venues, beginning with four free performances at Westfield Topanga in Woodland Hills Dec. 3 through Dec. 6, before opening on Dec. 10 for a two-week run at the Independent Studio in L.A.'s Atwater Village district.

The Village at Westfield Topanga, Koi Pond, 6250 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. 7 p.m. Dec. 3 and 4; 6 p.m. Dec. 5 and 6. Ends Dec. 6. Free admission.

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Independent Studio, Atwater Crossing Arts + Innovation Complex, 3191 Casitas Ave., L.A. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 through 12, 17 through 19; 2 p.m. Dec. 13, 20. Ends Dec. 20. Tickets: $20 (general admission), $35 (supports ISCLA's initiative to provide access). Ten free tickets available for each performance. Call office for information. (818) 710-6306, www.iscla.org.

Back for a fourth year, classical repertory theatre company A Noise Within presents the Dickens classic with all the trimmings, with a cast headed by Co-Artistic Director Geoff Elliott, who returns as Scrooge in this lively adaptation. The large-scale production features Spirits of memorable design and original music by composer Ego Plum.

A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. (corner of Foothill Boulevard and Sierra Madre Villa Avenue), Pasadena. Opens Dec. 5. Runs 1 and 4 p.m. Dec. 5, 12, 19; 2 p.m. Dec. 6, 20; 8 p.m. Dec. 11, 18; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 13; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16, 21; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23. Ends Dec. 23. Tickets start at $48.00. (626) 356-3100, Ext. 1, www.ANoiseWithin.org.

This year marks Glendale Centre Theatre's 50th anniversary production of the classic, and that means that some adults who saw the show as kids and then brought their own offspring, are likely now to have grandchildren in tow for this lavish, family-focused retelling, complete with carolers. Opens Friday (Nov. 27); ends with a Christmas Eve matinee.

"A Christmas Carol," Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale. Opens Nov. 27. Runs 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 3 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5 p.m. on select Sundays; 2 p.m. Dec. 24. Ends Dec. 24. Tickets: $32; children 16 and under, $25. (818) 244-8481, www.glendalecentretheatre.com/shows/a-christmas-carol-2/.

Grove Theater Center's annual, three-actor "A Christmas Carol" at GTC Burbank, running Saturday (Nov. 28) through Dec. 20, is directed and adapted by GTC Artistic Director Kevin Cochran, who stages the show using only (with a few exceptions) Dickens' original words as published in 1843. In seamless transformations, the returning cast members — Broadway veteran David Allen Jones, stage and film stalwart Frank Simons and award-winning British actor Jenna Augen — serve alternately as narrators and as Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, the lesson-imparting Spirits, and the book's numerous other characters.

GTC Burbank, George Izay Park, 1111-b West Olive Ave., Burbank. Opens Nov. 28. Runs 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. Ends Dec. 20. Tickets: $34.50; Burbank residents, $29.50; students and seniors, $24.50. Recommended for adults and children age 9 and up. (800) 838-3006, www.gtc.org.

"A Christmas Carol" is an annual tradition as well for Parson's Nose, the Pasadena-based company known for lively condensed versions of Shakespeare, Moliere and other classics of literature. This 60-minute, language-rich, Reader's Theatre production was adapted by Parson's Nose Co-founder and Artistic Director Lance Davis.

Lineage Performing Arts Center, 89 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. 7 p.m. Dec. 19, 3 p.m. Dec. 20. Ends Dec. 20. Recommended for adults and age 12 and up. Tickets: Pay-what-you-will ($5 to $25). (626) 403-7667, www.parsonsnose.com/a-christmas-carol-rts.html.

Young Stars Theatre, a nonprofit community theatre project for budding actors ages 8 to 18, also puts on shows with adult casts, and that's the case with the company's ninth annual production of "A Christmas Carol," opening Dec. 4 for a two-week run at South Pasadena's Fremont Centre Theatre, where Young Stars recently took up residence. In this adaptation, as two narrators clash over the right way to tell the tale, Scrooge and company take the stage and Dickens' story comes to life. Audiences are invited to take part in a pre-show caroling sing-along.

Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. Opens Dec. 4. Runs 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.; 3 p.m. Dec. 12. Ends Dec. 12. $20; opening night, $25. www.musicandtheatre.com/tickets

A pre-show sing-along sets the mood, too, for an hourlong, interactive production of "A Christmas Carol" for children and their families at the Huntington in San Marino on Dec. 4, presented by Music Center educational touring ensemble Will & Co.

Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Rothenberg Hall, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino. 7 p.m. Dec. 4. $10 to $15. (626) 405-2100, huntington.org.

And finally, if you're in the mood to celebrate with something in addition to, or other than Dickens, here are a couple of festive options:

"Peter Pan and Tinker Bell—a Pirates' Christmas" opens Dec. 9 at the Pasadena Playhouse, where the fairy-tale-based, British-style panto from Lythgoe Family Productions is fast becoming a holiday tradition. Among the celebrity cast: John O'Hurley as Hook, Chrissie Fit ("Pitch Perfect 2") as Tinkerbell, and Parvesh Cheena (NBC's "Outsourced") as Smee. (Also in the cast: two real-life canine brothers of the large, Newfoundland variety. Therapy dogs for L.A.'s Children's Hospital, the pair double as Nana.) This musical extravaganza is directed by Bonnie Lythgoe and choreographed by Spencer Liff, both from "So You Think You Can Dance."

Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena. Opens 7 p.m. Dec. 9. Runs 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon, 4 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; noon and 4 p.m. Sunday. Special matinees: 3 p.m. Dec. 22 through 24, Dec. 29 and 30. (Dark Dec. 25, 31, Jan. 1.) Ends Jan. 3. $25 to $77. (626) 356-7529, www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.

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Glendale's historic Alex Theatre, meanwhile, offers not one, but two "Nutcrackers," beginning with two performances of the Tchaikovsky classic by Los Angeles Ballet on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6, followed by Red Chair Children's Production Co.'s stage presentation on Dec. 11 and Dec. 13.

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Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Los Angeles Ballet, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5; 2 p.m. Dec. 6. $31 to $99; Red Chair Children's Production Co., 8 p.m. Dec. 11; 2 and 6 p.m. Dec. 13. $15 to $45. (818) 243-7700, Ext. 216, www.alextheatre.org/events.)

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LYNNE HEFFLEY writes about theater and culture for Marquee.

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