'A Christmas Carol'

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To be charitable, there probably have been drearier productions of "A Christmas Carol" than the one on view at the Kodak Theatre. But it's doubtful if this popular fable ever has squandered so much proven talent in such grand surroundings with so little bang for the buck.

The bad news starts at the door when we learn that Jane Seymour is too ill to appear as Christmas Past (though she's replaced by a capable Jane Noseworthy) and Gene Wilder, who was scheduled to appear as Marley's ghost in the form of a hologram, has been sent back to electronic purgatory. Needless to say, even a badly hologrammed Wilder might have brightened up the evening.

Christopher Lloyd makes a good first impression as Scrooge, wearing his bitterness and cramped spirit like a badge of honor. But before long, he starts to make love — slow love — to every syllable in the character's limited lexicon, and the performance begins to thicken and congeal.

As Lloyd oscillates between high tragedy and British hambone, at times he appears to be acting in a private play. But that's often the case with many of the actors in this remote, chilly and apparently under-rehearsed production.

John Goodman's Christmas Present, on the other hand, seems to have wandered in from a good-natured Roman bacchanalia. Sporting clusters of grapes in his hair, a thick robe that accentuates his already mighty girth and an odd beard that lays on his chest like a dead animal, Goodman has little to do but walk around with a puzzled smile on his face. We can only imagine why he's puzzled.

Jane Leeves acquits herself nobly in a small part as Mrs. Cratchit, while Barry Cutler fills in nicely for Wilder's missing hologram of Marley.

Reinforcing the general feeling of carelessness about director Kevin Von Feldt's production is a poor sound system that tends to muffle the narration (uncredited), a major feature of the drama. The effect is to distance us further from a show whose most serious fault, along with those already mentioned, is that there rarely is a sense of real life onstage. (partialdiff)
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