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STAGE REVIEW : ‘Christmas’ Caravan Rolls On

Just as some versions of “A Christmas Carol” sing to the rafters while others are tone-deaf, so some “Carols” want merely to divert, while others have bigger intentions in mind.

On the other hand, Charles Jones’ adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” as staged by the Nebraska Theatre Caravan (they roll into Malibu’s Smothers Theatre tonight), wants to divert with high-minded technique.

Friday at the Norris Theatre in Palos Verdes, this Nebraskan caravan (one of four touring companies, professional spinoffs of the Omaha Community Playhouse) suggested the roadshows of the early West, especially in James Othuse’s charming portable set pieces. But there was elegance as well, for Othuse has designed the pieces in a style that crosses London Victorian with Art Nouveau, and director Carl Beck’s stage pictures often resembled opulent fold-out Christmas cards.

All the pictures, though, along with 22 interspersed, magnificently sung Christmas tunes, caused a Yuletide flood that many young kids may not be able to stay with, let alone the past-present-future tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s humanizing. In a cast teeming with choice character portraits (Jenny Barron and Marie Barlow were two deliciously comic scavengers in the future, and Steve Saydah is a model Fezziwig), Cork Ramer is miscast as Scrooge: Vocally vibrant, Ramer is physically too young for the role by decades.

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* “A Christmas Carol,” Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine University, Malibu, Monday-Tuesday, 8 p.m. $27; (213) 456-4522. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.


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