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THE SECOND downtown "Christmas Carol" opened Thursday night, and by the looks of it, it's going to be some contest this holiday season.

Neal Radice's eighth annual production of the Dickens classic in the Alleyway Theatre is a traditional, enormously appealing adaptation of the old chestnut. It's a low tech version, with a single, two-level set, various small props, modest costumes, and eight adults and six children playing 30 roles.

Radice has given a polish to his own adaptation for a brighter, livelier "Carol." He has incorporated the carolers -- Radice, David Sambora, Maureen Porter and Loraine O'Donnell -- into the story itself. Although they sing like the angels themselves, their opening concert/sing-along of five carols is excessive. Their musical accompaniment throughout the play, however, is lovely and unobtrusive.

As narrator, Radice gives an animated and improved reading worthy of Dickens' words. And he ably moves between his role as narrator and his role as Fred, Scrooge's nephew. The combination narrator/Fred is another new feature of this polished adaptation, and a sensible one at that.

Timothy Denesha is a wiry Scrooge with an agility that belies his age. His reading of the role is more clever than cold. In fact, he's far more appealing that any Scrooge should be.

The ghosts are always difficult, but the Alleyway quartet comes away with high marks. Michael Mirand's Marley is a great gasping moaner indeed, who appears from below with some truly remarkable shackles.

Joyce Stilson is a lovely, graceful Christmas Past. David Sambora is hale and hearty as Christmas Present, and the immobile Ghost of Christmas Future is an enormous, ominous creation.

Their fault is in their line readings. They look the part, but they don't sound as foreboding or as frightening as ghosts might. The mute Christmas Future is the most convincing.

There are fine performances by the rest of the cast, including Phillip Knoerzer as Bob Cratchit and in smaller roles as Belle's husband and the Undertaker, and Maureen Porter as Ernestine, Fanny, Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs. Dilber. In addition to her duties as Christmas Past, Stilson turns in a fine performance as Mrs. Cratchit. Loraine O'Donnell does well in three very distinct roles -- The delicate Belle, the giggly Celia, and the lusty charwoman.

No "Christmas Carol" would be complete without special effects. The Alleyway rises to the task with first rate lighting, fog, floating entrances, and a spinning bed.

The sound effects are spotty, but the voices from Scrooge's past, swirling about his head at the end of his visit with Christmas Past, is very impressive.

Taken all together, the 90 minutes with the Alleyway's Scrooge and the Cratchit family will kindle the holiday spirit in one and all.

A Christmas Carol

Dickens holiday classic directed by Neal Radice, featuring Radice, Timothy Denesha, Michael Mirand, Joyce Stilson and others.

Performances continue Wednesdays through Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 5 and 9, Sundays at 2 through Dec. 30 in the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley.

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