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Bah Humbug: Covina Center for the Performing Arts rewrites Dickens

Frank Minano as Scrooge in his adaptation of A Christmas Carol


To tell you the truth, the best production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” I ever saw involved Patrick Stewart, a chair, a table and a book from which he read. The story itself proves so engrossing it is hard to find a reason to over-embellish it, even to draw crowds into a theater at holiday time. With its quick lesson on the need for compassion, the ugliness of greed and the concept that happiness is less about money than human connection, not to mention the description of Marley – one of the scariest ghost appearances in literature – Dickens has supplied everything.

This is a central reason why the version of this timeless tale at Covina Center for the Performing Arts proved so irritating. The new adaptation by Frank Minano decides to add to, and change, the Dickens original.

The padding is superfluous. Belle, the love of Scrooge’s young life, is followed into older age to show her as a shining example of humanity. We get to watch Marley die and Scrooge chuckle over the body as he signs the death certificate, making Scrooge pathologically cruel rather than Dickens’ myopic skinflint.

And, once “reborn,” Scrooge doesn’t supply a huge turkey for his clerk’s family’s feast. After bounding about his room like a madman, he arrives at the Cratchits, hands them the turkey for later, and invites them all to his nephew’s house for a Christmas party and dinner to which he alone has been invited – a clash of Britain’s stratified society and a burden on the same nephew he earlier points out has little money.

Minano doesn’t stop there. He also stars as Scrooge, and helps to direct, leaving no one but fellow director Hope Kaufman to rein in his star turn. Scrooge’s moments onstage stretch and stretch, and much of the last act is played in the same overemotional key. This is a pity, as from a production standpoint, discounting the lead and the padding of the script, this is a pretty good show.

Standouts in the huge cast include Jill Gerber as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Michael Buczynski as the suitably boisterous Ghost of Christmas Present, and Max Herzfeld as a particularly personable Fred. Also worthy of note are Brett Chapin as Bob Cratchit and Gehrig Baes as a satisfyingly unsaccharine Tiny Tim.

As always, carolers have been inserted into the drama, but here they are very good carolers and their songs are used to cover set changes. It works. The set, by Mark MacKenzie follows the CCPA tradition of making modular, multi-story creations which keep the set changes short and the segues smooth. The costuming by Linda Vick is fairly accurate, though someone should inform the men in the cast that Victorian gentlemen of Scrooge or Fred’s class almost never took off their coats in public, never at a party, and certainly not if they had – which they didn’t in those days – a vest with no back.

So, although this “A Christmas Carol” is fantastically overblown, it still has things to recommend it. Unfortunately, with the carols and the additional material, it is also long, and gets longer if Minano is really on a roll in the second act – a tough thing for the small children in the audience. In the end, my advice to any and all who choose to dramatize this famous short story is this: just tell the story. Really. Dickens knew his characters and his audience. Trust him.

What: “A Christmas Carol” When: Through December 18, 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday Where: Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N. Citrus Ave. in Covina How Much: $28, VIP level $38 Info: (626) 331-8133 or http://www.covinacenter.com

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