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BANG FOR YOUR 'BUG

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Nothing says "Orlando" like seeing A Christmas Carol in your shorts and complaining about the excessive air conditioning. This chestnut reappears regularly as the days grow short, representing a sort of church service for the agnostic.

It's always ironic to see local socialist Bobbie Bell – who again stars in Theatre Downtown's production – running about in the union suit of unrepentant capitalist Ebenezer Scrooge. Bell is good at the role, with the socioeconomic theories he's advanced as a director, playwright and critic reinforcing Scrooge's transition from cash addict to new mentor to Tiny Tim (Nick Balon). Opposite Bell is the soft-spoken Jim Bruner as the chilly and undermotivated clerk Bob Cratchit, replete with brushy sideburns and a family that lives on love and not much else. As the feisty, no-nonsense wife who supports Bob in his noncareer, Nikki Darden is hard to pick out in her industrial-strength hairnet.

Supporting Bell and Bruner is a cast of dozens, many of them not old enough to stay up for the post-show party. Putting more than one young imp onstage is always risky, but this crew is 100 percent pro – under control and never upstaging their elders, as good Victorian children are taught not to.

Dean Walkuski makes a cool Marley: Rather than just dropping back into the pit of capitalist hell after his salutary speech to Eb, he comes downstage and dances off with a cast of other ghoulish undead (shades of Theatre Downtown's recent Poe and last year's The Rocky Horror Show). Aaron Babcock's Ghost of Christmas Present gets a few lines to sing, but somehow they don't quite match the music. During scene changes, a young Rebecca Santiago sings "O Holy Night" and "What Child Is This" in one of the most beautiful voices in town today.

The only real negatives are a set (by Babcock) that's surprisingly similar to last year's and a dead spot during the Cratchits' family meal. I'm not sure where the energy went, but it came back in time for Scrooge to send that young lad to the poultry shop "in the next block, but one." I calculate that to be Scrooge's street, if my Victorian counting is accurate.

In the spectrum of available Christmas Carols, this is the big-value production wrapped in shiny paper, complete with a half-hour of very professional pre-show caroling. Just as many only visit Jesus on Easter, this is the show to see if you only enter the theater once a year.

A Christmas Carol
Through Dec. 18
Theatre Downtown

arts@orlandoweekly.com

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