A Christmas CarolThis season, the Alley Theatre has cobbled together a new version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, and it is as darkly funny and as sweetly tender as Dickens can be. The production features the same script, which was adapted by Michael Wilson, that the Alley used five years ago, but Tony Straiges's set is brand-new, as are many other elements of this surprisingly moving production. After a long hiatus, James Black returns to the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. And he brings a warm complexity and depth to the gray-haired grump. A lot of the power of this production comes from the ghosts who lead Scrooge through his spiritual awakening. The Spirit of Christmas Past is played with rich, grandmotherly grace by Bettye Fitzpatrick. And David Rainey plays the Spirit of Christmas Present with great booming generosity. Wilson, who also directs, makes the most of this new incarnation of Dickens's old tale. It might not be quite as funny as the one the Alley has put on in recent years, but in many ways it's truer to the wonderfully traditional story about the joys of generosity, gratitude and grace at this time of year. Through December 28. 615 Texas, 713-228-8421.
A Pure Gospel Christmas: Coming Home Now running at the Ensemble Theatre, A Pure Gospel Christmas: Coming Home is a frenetic burst of energetic song celebrating the holiday season. Conceived and directed by David A. Tobin and Leslie Dockery, the show is built around a thin little story (written by Tobin) about a choir full of cartoonlike characters who fuss and fight as they learn to appreciate how important they are to one another. The denizens of this world include an old woman who cooks sky-high pineapple upside-down cakes, an old man who pulls out his flask at inappropriate times, and a hip-hop-loving youngster who spouts off to his elders whenever he can get away with it. There is absolutely nothing new here. And at times, one can't help wishing the creators would just do away with the story, as it's really nothing more than a lame excuse to get to the music. Happily, when the performers (led by a terrifically appealing Anthony "Boggess" Glover) are busy singing and dancing, the frenzy of energy that spins across the stage keeps the two-and-a-half-hour production moving quickly. And by the show's end, when everyone in the audience is clapping and nodding along with the singers, only a Scrooge wouldn't find himself in good cheer. Through December 31. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055.