VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND : 'Christmas Carol' at Simi Center Gets Lift From Dash of Fantasy : The traditional holiday play benefits from its creators' ties to Disney. Strong acting offers a balance of comedy and drama.


The first version of "A Christmas Carol" to be staged in Ventura County this year is also the first major continuing production at the new Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center.

While director Kevin Lima and collaborator John Dolittle's conception is largely traditional, this production by the Soap Box Players incorporates fantastic elements. This is no surprise once you know that Lima and Dolittle have worked for Disney, where Lima is currently an animation director.

Barry Cutler plays Ebenezer Scrooge, plenty crusty when appropriate and comically believable when he changes his character.

Timothy Bennett plays Bob Cratchit; Gene Bernath plays the ghastly apparition of Jacob Marley; and Will Shupe II is seen as Scrooge's nephew, Fred.

(There are at least two Disney in-jokes: Fred calls Ebenezer "Uncle Scrooge," as Huey, Dewey and Louie called Scrooge McDuck; and we'll leave it to you to discover how Lima works Minnie Mouse into the script).

Some of the funniest moments in the show are those involving David Nankivell and Mary Harper-Johns as Scrooge's old boss, Fezziwig, and his wife.

Lima's animation background becomes most apparent in a looming Christmas Past (Erin Cariker) and a truly monstrous Christmas Yet to Come.

Musical director Diann Alexander turns some interesting variations on traditional carols, and a quartet of dancers--Erin and Jenny Cariker, Elizabeth Rose and John Whitaker--waft around the stage as spirits to Dani Brown's choreography, with Whitaker doubling as the Bacchus-like Christmas Present.

* "A Christmas Carol" continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 23 at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave. (at Church Street) in Simi Valley. Tickets for all performances are $15; students and seniors, $12. For reservations or information, call 581-9940.


Back to the '50s: The Marquie Dinner Theater is presenting a change of pace for the next few Sundays: a musical revue called "The Cardigans." Similar to the better-known "Forever Plaid," Rick Lewis' script presents what's purported to be a typical performance by a '50s male vocal group. (Lewis' similar show, with female singers called "The Taffetas," appeared in Ventura earlier this year).

Zach Spencer, Kevin Carranza, Dan Shaw and KC Hornick appear as clean-cut fellows from a small town in upstate Ohio, touring the country in the days, they say, when there were only 48 states. They're supposedly a successful recording group, though the songs presented as their hits were in fact popularized by others.

While everyone will recognize some tunes, they're bound to be surprised by some selections. Who doesn't know Frankie Avalon's "Venus," for instance, but when was the last time you heard the Playmates' "Beep, Beep"?

The time span of when the original songs were released is roughly 1954-61, though anachronisms abound: The Cardigans duplicate the Righteous Brothers' 1965 revival of "Unchained Melody," the Angels' "Thank You and Good Night" from 1963, and the Marcels' distinctive arrangement of "Blue Moon" made in 1961. But there were 50 states after 1959, when Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the Union.

Still, the set looks and feels right under Paul Marquie's direction and with choreography by Deidre Fisher. While most of the songs stick close to the familiar arrangements, Lewis and musical director Diann Alexander have come up with some surprises: group harmony versions of "Running Bear" and "Mack the Knife," among them.

The between-songs patter is amusing, there's a bit of audience participation, and the show is a lot of fun for those attracted by the music.

The opening night's performance was hampered by one singer's laryngitis, which was cleverly covered by some backstage magic. Subsequent shows should give the singers a better opportunity to show what they can do.

* "The Cardigans" continues on Sunday nights, Dec. 10 and 17, and New Year's Eve at the Marquie Dinner Theater, 340 Mobil Ave. in Camarillo. Doors open at 5:30 Sunday evenings, with dinner served at 6 and the show beginning at 7; doors open at 7:30 on New Year's Eve, with dinner at 8 and show at 9.

Admission on all nights except New Year's Eve is $28, which includes a buffet dinner, the show, nonalcoholic beverages and tip (a cash bar is available); the New Year's Eve admission of $60 includes a sit-down dinner, dancing, champagne and midnight snacks. For reservations or information, call 484-9909.


'Green Eggs and Hamlet'?Director Toni Beery has assembled readings from Dr. Seuss and William Shakespeare. The "family-friendly" revue plays this Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening only at the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks. You aren't likely to see anything like it anywhere else. Call 492-3699 for information.

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