Center Repertory Company's "A Christmas Carol" has launched the Christmas season for many area families who view the show as an annual must-see.
This year, the show roars onto the stage with a new look and a new Scrooge (Mark Anderson Phillips, who is terrific). But after more than a decade, it maintains some traditions in terms of the set, familiar cast members and the excellent adaptation of the Dickens story by Cynthia Caywood and Richard L. James.
So there's plenty to please everyone, from the die-hard traditionalists to those who yearn for changes.
It is, of course, the same tale of the redemption of the miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, following post-midnight visits from the ghosts of past, present and future Christmases. But the addition of Phillips has given Scrooge's interaction with the spirits a whole new energy and feel. He brings an enormous amount of physicality to the role, infusing Scrooge with the spirit of a young man and the characterization of a doddering old man. He has created a perfect voice for the character, which adds both to Scrooge's creepiness and his humor.
The real comic force, however, is once again Michael Ray Wisely, a veteran of this production who plays the spirit of the present. He tackles the role as a Scotsman in another memorable performance. So memorable, in fact, he usually draws a huge ovation the moment he explodes from Scrooge's bed in a storm of confetti. And he manages to keep his performance fresh, finding new pieces of comedy each year.
What really makes this production work well year after year is its ensemble nature. The number of returning cast members is strong testimony to the show's popularity with its actors. And the occasional additions to the cast give the piece a fresh look without losing its charming familiarity.
Another other element to the show's success is its look -- created by director Stott Denison, who pays as much attention to the technical side of the production as he does the performances.
Dennison tries to add new technical pieces to the show each year, with the digital picture shown in Scrooge's front door, and the flying of several of the characters, or their likenesses, throughout the show.
And the whole thing unfolds on a massive set designed and annually improved by Kelly James Tighe, who has done much work on the Lesher Center stages and knows the space as well as anyone. It's a kick each year to see the changes Tighe and Denison have teamed to make.
Finally, each year's production of "A Christmas Carol" has plenty of roles for young performers, which gives the show a family feel and affords the young actors a chance to both appear in a main stage production and play in age-appropriate roles.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'A CHRISTMAS CAROL'
Adapted by Cynthia Caywood and Richard L. James from the Charles Dickens novel, presented by Center Repertory Company
Through: Dec. 16
Where: Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, Civic Drive at Locust Street, Walnut Creek
Running time: 2 hours,
Tickets: $27-$41; 925-943-7469, www.centerrep.org