If Christmas is on its way, can "A Christmas Carol" be far off? Not in Ventura County, where the Charles Dickens story traditionally finds its way to local stages each year. In 1995, two county groups performed adaptations; this year, it's three.
The venerable and traditional Santa Susana Repertory Company begins its seventh stand Friday night, and two new versions opened last weekend. Of the two productions that opened last week, Oxnard High School keeps closer to Dickens' intent, while the Moorpark Melodrama's "A Dickens of a Holiday (or We Got Scrooged!)" adds a large dollop of slapstick antics.
Assembled under the auspices of the Gull Wings Children's Museum, the "Christmas Carol" at Oxnard High includes in its cast such well-regarded local actors as Robert E. "Doc" Reynolds as Scrooge, Ron Rezac as the ghost of Jacob Marley, James Wortman as the Spirit of Christmas Present, Deborah Probe as young Scrooge's girlfriend, and--too long absent from local theater stages--the actor who calls himself, simply, "Spanky."
Here's a special mention of Richie Van Healey, who plays Ali Baba (a character not usually identified with "A Christmas Carol") and shines on fiddle in a production number.
Patricia Bird's adaptation, directed by Patricia Lynn-Strickland, frames the tale as a story, narrated by an old man (Pete Trama). His presence soon gives way to Dickens' dialogue, still pretty recognizable through the singing, dancing (choreographed by Maggie White) and clambering all over Willy Eck's multilevel set.
On opening night, too many of the actors dropped too many lines. On the other hand, Oxnard High School's newish Performing Arts Center is one of the better places to see a play locally, and the opening-night audience last week seemed to be having a swell time, overall.
* "A Christmas Carol," at Oxnard High School Performing Arts Center, 3400 W. Gonzales Road. At 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $5-$10. Call 525-6219.
The Santa Susana Repertory Company's "A Christmas Carol" opens Friday and continues through Dec. 22 at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza's Forum Theatre, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; $10-$22. Call 497-8607.
Dickens' Sendup: This is the first year for the Moorpark Melodrama's "A Dickens of a Holiday." Executive producer Linda Bredemann says that next year's Christmas production will be a burlesque of "The Nutcracker," but they needn't bother. A terrific (but gentle) parody of a show well in need of it, "Dickens" could be repeated every year, with occasional topical updates by co-writers Adrea Gibbs and Scott Martin.
The play sticks fairly close to Dickens most of the time--no Ali Baba here--but with odd interpretations of some of the roles. There's a whole lot of singing (Tim King is musical director) and dancing. Characters comment on the action in a way that's reminiscent of the Hope-Crosby "Road" movies.
Gibbs, who directed the show, also supplied the choreography, some of which is quite sophisticated by Melodrama standards.
The main conceit of this "Christmas Carol" is that the characters are takeoffs of pop-culture icons--the spirits of Christmas are played a la Elvis by Marlon Deveraux Robinson, the Fezziwigs are out of "I Love Lucy," the Cratchits out of "The Brady Bunch" and so on. It doesn't quite work--nobody looks much like their prototypes, for one thing--but the point is made, and the script is funny enough that the shortcoming isn't really important.
Chris Carnifelli plays Scrooge relatively straight, making it that much funnier when he's fitted with reindeer antlers and a red nose. Later, someone else winds up with a pie in the face; it's that kind of a play.
* "A Dickens of a Holiday," at Moorpark Melodrama, 45 E. High St., Moorpark. At 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays.a Through Dec. 22. $13. Call 529-1212.
Casting Call: The Cabrillo Music Theatre holds auditions for "Oklahoma!" by appointment only: Curly, Laurey, Will, Jud and Ali in Burbank on Saturday, and all remaining roles, including dancers and chorus, will be auditioned in Newbury Park on Sunday and Monday. Lewis Wilkenfeld is director, Diann Alexander, musical director, and John Charron, choreographer. The show will be performed at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza March 7-9 and 14-16. Call 497-8613.