A Christmas Carol. The power of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol — and the reason it keeps getting resurrected in so many forms, Christmas after Christmas — stems from the depths of sorrow that underlie the joyously optimistic resolution. Ebenezer Scrooge lives in a London where poor people face the kind of bitter cold we've experienced around here lately in ragged clothes, poorly fed and without shelter; where families are sent to debtors' prisons when their fortunes slide; and where children work long, miserable hours — as Dickens himself did in a boot-blacking factory as a boy. A Christmas Carol: The Musical at the Arvada Center isn't about suffering, sin and redemption, however. It's a big, rollicking musical with ear-pleasing songs, lots of cheerful dancing, stunning scenery and great costumes — and yet on its own level, it works. The Cratchits are pretty much window dressing. You can't really raise a tear for this Tiny Tim because he's so obviously healthy, and the writers have done away with the scenes in which the Cratchits try to deal with their grief after Tiny Tim's death. As for that death's-head figure, Scrooge himself, he's not scary anymore. He doesn't even seem that mean. Put aside reservations, however, and you're in for a warm, happy evening. The actors are all strong and the voices are plain terrific. Richard White's Scrooge may be a bit too robust and unemotional, but when he cuts loose with that amazing baritone, who cares if the melody's not memorable? Ultimately, what this show lacks in soul, it makes up for in exuberance. Presented by the Arvada Center through December 22, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org. Reviewed December 12.
Jackie and Me. Jackie and Me, Steven Dietz's dramatization of a young-adult book by Dan Gutman, is a kids' show, and also a remarkably flat and didactic one. It tells the story of a baseball-crazed boy named Joey Stoshak, who, with the help of a magical baseball card, goes back to 1947 and meets his idol, Jackie Robinson, the man who changed the game and, in the process, racial dynamics in America. Joey has a problem with his temper, and Robinson shows him how to deal with it. His parents are on the verge of separating, and Joey's adventures help bring them back together. Pretty much everyone is a cardboard character. Joey jumps around a lot and has little jokes, but he's still one of those stereotypical cutely tough but vulnerable Brooklyn kids. Mom and Dad are nice, nice, nice: You start longing to witness one serious squabble between them. As for Robinson himself, he's so noble he seems poised to step onto a plinth and instantly transmogrify into marble. The entire play is sanctimonious, preachy and sodden with wet-eyed nostalgia; even for a kids' story, the plot beggars belief. In most children's literature, the young live in a fantastical world that's closed to their elders, but Joey's parents know he is able to travel through time, and they actually suggest errands for him to accomplish when he does this. And once he's in the 1940s, Joey is transformed in a way that's seriously hard to stomach. Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through December 22, Space Theatre. Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org. Reviewed November 28.
Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good-Bye. This is the last show at Heritage Square Music Hall — a strange venue that's half true Western-style building, half pure Disney-level kitsch. So if you're already a fan of the 25-year-old troupe, go catch Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good-Bye immediately. And if you're not, you should check out this unique slice of Colorado theater history before it vanishes. Over the years, the shows have been both scripted and improvisational; some were a little serious, but most are just hilarious; many consist of strings of musical numbers patched together with the slimmest of plots; and there's almost always a lot of interaction with audience members — some of them repeaters who have no problem yelling out ideas, requests, even the occasional "I love you" to a specific cast member. This final production has no plot, just songs the cast happens to like or feels you will. There are jokes about job-hunting and a famous guest artist who's inexplicably absent or perhaps just passed out backstage. The actors each sing a song they've chosen as a farewell: Alex Crawford does his own take on Cab Calloway's "The Hi De Ho Man," Rory Pierce contributes a tender "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and Annie Dwyer, looking glamorous in a glittering white dress, says quietly, "All my formative years have been spent right here," before launching into Sondheim's "I'm Still Here." T. J. Mullin comes up with a moving rendition of an aria from Puccini's Turandot, revealing himself as a man seriously in love with music. From there, it's on to the broad humor of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," a clutch of other comic songs and the sweet sounds of "O, Holy Night" and "Silent Night." Presented by Heritage Square Music Hall through December 31, 18301 West Colfax Avenue, Golden, 303-279-7800, hsmusichall.com. Reviewed December 5.
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