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Christmas Treats

The holiday brings forth some old chestnuts, a few of them tasty

But the folks at Masquerade have worked hard to yank this show into the present decade. Current cultural references abound. The production includes everything from Homer Simpson to high school gang-bangers to clogging. And for the most part, it succeeds. Best of all, the singing is terrific. Musical director Phillip Duggins shows the cast off at its best, and what he's managed to do with a piano and a drum set in terms of accompaniment is amazing. The only problem I had was with the democratic way in which each performer was given a solo; some of the performers have such lovely voices (Naya Rodriguez-Castinado, in particular) that I wanted to hear more of them and less of the others. Too, the show, which goes on at least 30 minutes too long, badly needs cutting. All the wailing over Christ's crucifixion toward the end just doesn't work; it feels indulgent. Still, all in all, this production is one more successful feather in the Masquerade Theatre's cap. They've only been at this theater business since the summer, and so far they've managed to hit the mark every time. (Godspell plays through January 4 at the Masquerade Theatre, 720 W. 11th, 861-7045.)

Finally, what would Christmas be without a production of Dickens's A Christmas Carol? Better off, you might be thinking to yourself, but in this case, going the Grinch route would be a mistake. The Alley has managed to resurrect this war horse with a great deal of panache and fun. James Black, who played Scrooge the night I saw the show (he rotates the role with Charles Krohn), managed to turn what can be a crotchety cartoon of a character into a being the audience could actually care for. And Paul Hope, in the dual role of the housekeeper and Jacob Marley (he rotates with John Feltch), was wonderfully silly and, in places, laugh-out-loud funny. The set, which is basically a Victorian-looking wooden walkway that encircles the stage, does a nice job of insinuating the hustle-bustle of city life. The special effects dazzled my nine-year-old companion, who left the theater pronouncing, in her haughtiest theater critic voice, that Christmas Carol was "a lot" better than the Nutcracker, which she had seen earlier that week. In fact, she voted Christmas Carol her favorite of everything she's seen, which perhaps says a lot about why so many theaters keep mounting this show. Merry Christmas, everyone, indeed. (A Christmas Carol plays through December 28 at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 228-8421.)

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