Hal Landon Jr. has performed the part of Scrooge for each of the 17 years that South Coast Rep has rolled out "A Christmas Carol." He remains (or perhaps has become) so specific and real that it is possible to be transfixed all over again by the story of the wizened miser whose heart is miraculously opened by three ghosts of Christmas. In Jerry Patch's smart adaptation, Scrooge is saved not by a holy trinity, but by reconnecting with his undefended younger self and by really seeing the people around him.
The production does look a little weary (sets: ugly, crowd scenes: stilted). But when Scrooge awakens from the long, dark, terrifying Christmas Eve night to the pure joy of refinding his soul, Landon somersaults on his bed and lands with his top hat implanted on his head. Amazingly he does not hit any cliches in his tumble; his delight is true and connected.
Director John-David Keller seems more comfortable staging the show's more intimate scenes. Of course, the child actors have obvious shortcomings, though that shouldn't bother most families during a holiday season.
Ah well, it's Christmas, and Landon's Scrooge will make you forgive everything. His sage performance reminds us all of the hundreds of small ways we close off our hearts as we grow older.
* "A Christmas Carol," South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m.; Sundays and Dec. 24, noon and 4 p.m. Ends with Dec. 24 matinee. $14-$34. $8 off for children under 12 (except Fridays and Saturdays). (714) 957-4033. Running time: 2 hours.