Whether you’re seeing South Coast Repertory’s “A Christmas Carol” for the first time or (in my case) the 39th, you’re surely struck with an overall sense of joy and fulfillment during the show’s last few scenes when Ebenezer Scrooge finally discovers his inner Christmas spirit.
The annual holiday show has been radiating that incandescent glow ever since SCR commissioned company member Jerry Patch to adapt the Charles Dickens classic for the stage back in 1980. It wasn’t intended to be an annual event, but overwhelming audience popularity demanded a return, then another, and soon it became an annual tradition.
It’s back again this year, for its 39th incarnation, and two of its creative elements remain unchanged from Day One — the direction, by John-David Keller and the rich, robust performance of its Scrooge, Hal Landon Jr., who probably soon should be getting a call from the folks at the Guinness Book of World Records.
Landon’s contrasting characterizations continue to provide the show’s driving force — the virulent “miser’s miser” of the early scenes and, especially, his overflowing humanity when his visits by the spirits have ended. Those latter moments should send playgoers home with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts.
A few other cast members have been aboard for nearly the full ride: Richard Doyle as the solemn ghost of Christmas past and Art Koustik as the scurrilous cider salesman — both, like Landon, SCR founding artists. Keller has long doubled as Mr. Fezziwig and a charity solicitor, but this year he’s passed those roles on to William Francis McGuire and Doyle, respectively, with McGuire turning Fezziwig’s innate hamminess up a few notches.
Back in their familiar characters are Daniel Blinkoff, again heartwarming as Scrooge’s put-upon clerk, Bob Cratchit and Timothy Landfield, joyous as the ultra-merry ghost of Christmas present who undergoes an abrupt mood swing between acts. Jennifer Parsons is terrific, as always, in her 14th year as the wise Mrs. Cratchit.
Also impressive in the supporting ranks are Sol Castillo, a newcomer as Ebenezer’s jolly nephew; Melody Butiu, another fresh face, as his wife; Kimberly Scott as a kittenish Mrs. Fezziwig, and Alex Knox, solid in his fifth turn as the youthful Scrooge, making a choice that will govern his life.
The only lighting designers the show has known, Donna and Tom Ruzika, shine brilliantly once again in this, their 39th, “Carol.” Thomas Buderwitz’s scenery grows even more impressive in his 16th production and Drew Dalzell’s sound effects punctuate the show emphatically.
Special tribute must be accorded to Dwight Richard Odle, creator of the show’s costumes, who died a few months ago. He’s credited with creative adjustments to those garments over the project’s 39-year run.
A packed house at Sunday’s matinee is visual testimony to the staying power of the show that Patch scripted nearly four decades ago, and which continues to merrily usher in the Christmas season.
IF YOU GO
What: “A Christmas Carol”
Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Nightly, except Mondays, at varying curtain times until Dec. 24
Cost: Starts at $23
Call: (714) 708-5555
Tom Titus reviews local theater.