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**Review: 'A Christmas Carol' at the Kodak Theatre

December 24, 2008 | 11:38 am

Scrooge

Rumors have been swirling about the star-studded production of "A Christmas Carol," now playing through Jan. 4 at the Kodak Theatre. Citing a bronchial infection, Jane Seymour abruptly left the cast. Gene Wilder, who was slated to play Marley’s Ghost on hologram, also evanesced from the show as surely as Marley’s troubled spirit from Scrooge’s chambers (the producers declared Wilder’s high-tech performance "would not be effective in the production.")

Despite the absence of Wilder and Seymour, there’s still plenty of star power to be found in "Carol." Christopher Lloyd carries on as Scrooge, John Goodman hangs in there as the Ghost of Christmas Present, while Jane Leeves, perhaps best known for her long stint on the sitcom "Frasier," perseveres as Mrs. Cratchit.

The last-minute defections hint, correctly, at deeper problems in the production. Various blogs, including our Culture Monster, have had a field day detailing the disasters dogging Monday night’s preview, which reportedly had more technical problems than a church pageant in a power outage.

Goodman_6 By the time the show officially opened on Tuesday night, many of the previous glitches from that reportedly disastrous preview had apparently been ironed out. But the production is still haunted by more than its share of mischievous spirits. Lights failed to go up, although certain actors invariably did. Prematurely interrupted in their rounds, abashed stagehands could be seen dashing off into the wings after the thunderously elaborate scene changes. And an overly prolific fog machine, meant as a spooky effect, completely obscured Marley (Barry Cutler, intrepidly battling the murk).

To his credit, adapter/director Kevin Von Feldt has opted for a refreshingly straightforward retelling of Dickens’ redemptive Christmas classic. But Feldt’s staging is an odd blend of professional expertise and amateurish fumbling. Not that the attempt isn’t intermittently impressive, as are all the elements, from behind the scenes to before the footlights. Still, the show has a half-baked feel, as if its promulgators had simply run out of time to fulfill their wildly ambitious aims.

With the exception of Nancy Dutmer’s handsome costumes, the technical team’s contributions are problematic. One suspects that, given a bit more polish in the execution, David Neville’s lighting and Julie Ferrin’s sound will serve the production nicely. Not so Jeff Hile’s sets. Abetted by design consultant Brian Ryman and "scenic drop artist" Jaroslav Gebr, Hile has constructed an elaborate Victorian milieu that is as much a detriment as it is an asset. There are, after all, those endless and interruptive scene changes. Then there’s the juxtaposition of scrupulously representational sets with certain crudely sketched backdrops -- a striking disconnect in style that, again, signals a time crunch.

Jane With a little delving, there are treasures to be unearthed here. Goodman is a bombastic and authoritative presence who gives a real boost at the top of the second act. A spirit who loves his spirits, he nips sly sips from his Christmas torch, which doubles as a sort of goblet, a genuinely clever touch. Leeves is truly affecting as the scrappy Mrs. Cratchit, who faces immeasurable loss with valiant cheer.

As for Lloyd, he has a great look, convincing cadaverousness, and crystal stage diction -- in short, everything required for an ideal Scrooge. Except his lines. Considering the sheer familiarity of the material, Lloyd’s frequent lapses are particularly painful. Imagine Hamlet ad-libbing "To be or not to be," and you’ll get the drift.

That’s a shame, because in spite of his shakiness, Lloyd is a crowd pleaser who garners a rousing ovation at the curtain. There’s always the chance his Scrooge will smooth out over the run. At present, though, this "Carol" brings to mind the prize turkey, as big as a boy, that Scrooge buys for the Cratchits. That turkey now hangs in state at the Kodak. Sadly, fancy trimmings aside, it’s gone a bit off. God help us, every one.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"A Christmas Carol," Kodak Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Dec. 26-27, 3 and 7:30 p.m., Dec. 28, 3 p.m.; Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m., Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, 3 p.m.; Jan. 2, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 3, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Closing performance Jan. 4, 3 p.m. $28-$79.50. (213) 480-3232. Running time: 2 hours.

**UPDATE: As it turns out, producer Kevin Von Feldt is haunted by his own ghost of "A Christmas Carol" past -- and it's no hologram. Read the story here.

From top: Christopher Lloyd as Scrooge, John Goodman as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Jane Leeves as Mrs. Cratchit in the production of "A Christmas Carol" at the Kodak Theatre. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times.

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