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On Theater: A festive 40th ‘Christmas Carol’ — and the end of an era

A Christmas Carol at South Coast Repertory
Hal Landon Jr. and Presley Coogan with the cast of South Coast Repertory’s 201​8 production of “A Christmas Carol.” This year’s production was Landon’s 40th and final performance as Scrooge.
(Jordan Kubat / South Coast Repertory)

Two 40-year theater traditions are winding down at South Coast Repertory: Hal Landon Jr.’s final portrayal of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” and John-David Keller’s last year as the show’s director.

This annual holiday production not only continues to warm theatergoers’ hearts, but this year, its visceral appeal is heightened, with Landon upping the emotional ante and other actors, particularly Daniel Blinkoff as Bob Cratchit, following suit.

The result is a glorious rendering of this SCR classic, culminating in tumultuous applause at the curtain call, as well as red scarves being thrown at Landon by members of the audience.

South Coast Repertory’s ‘A Christmas Carol’
Hal Landon Jr., Nicholas Brown, Daniel Blinkoff and Presley Coogan in “A Christmas Carol.”
(Jordan Kubat)
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By this time, Landon could pretty much phone in his part, but he does quite the opposite. His Scrooge is more fearful and greedier than ever — magnifying the joy late in the play when he’s discovered his hidden humanity after a long night with the spirits.

Keller, who has long also appeared on stage as Mr. Fezziwig, sits this one out, turning the part of young Ebenezer’s ebullient employer over to William Francis McGuire, who revels in the assignment.

Alex Knox returns as the youthful Scrooge, even though he’s a head taller than the older one.

Blinkoff, in his 17th turn as Cratchit, has amplified his character considerably, as has Jennifer Parsons, also in her 17th year in the role of his outspoken wife.

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Nicholas Brown, one of two lads playing their son Peter, illustrates economy of expression while drawing laughs from a subtle hand gesture.

South Coast Repertory’s ‘A Christmas Carol’
Richard Doyle, Hal Landon Jr. and Kimberly Thomas in “A Christmas Carol.”
(Jordan Kubat)

As the fearsome ghost of Jacob Marley, Larry Bates is a terrifying presence. Richard Doyle makes his 36th ”Carol” appearance, firmly enacting a solicitor and the spirit of Christmas past.

Timothy Landfield again delights in the guise of the ghost of Christmas present, effecting a startling transition between acts. Sol Castillo elegantly enacts the miser’s thoughtful nephew.

Technically, the usual suspects are well represented with Thomas Buderwitz‘s sterling multi-scene setting and the impeccable lighting design of Donna and Tom Ruzika (their 40th show). Impressive period costumes were designed by the late Dwight Richard Odle.

“A Christmas Carol” still packs the Segerstrom Stage theater even in its 40th year. It’s a glorious yuletide tradition, once again beautifully realized at South Coast Repertory.

IF YOU GO

What: “A Christmas Carol”

Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

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When: Nightly, except Mondays, at varying curtain times until Dec. 24

Cost: Start at $23

Information: (714) 708-5555; scr.org

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