ANNUAL HOLIDAY SHOWS like A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker are revenue generators, and as such I can't begrudge any arts organization strapping a brace on a nine-year-old's leg and calling him Tiny Tim. Gotta keep the ship afloat somehow, right?
And so it's December, and Portland Center Stage has found a particularly adorable gap-toothed urchin to trot onstage and make free with the blessings. Yes, it's A Christmas Carol, again. No, there's no real reason to see it, unless you're prone to the bouts of holiday sentimentality that occasionally befall even the staunchest cynic (or you have elderly relatives—old people gum this shit up with a spoon). But holiday-season entertainment decisions are impervious to the considerations of taste, tonality, and general good judgment that for 11 months of the year keep most people far, far away from musical revues—whether you like it or not, odds are a Christmas show or two is in your future. And it's undeniable that a live, staged version of A Christmas Carol feels somehow less commercial and more in keeping with the season's lurching sleigh rides and charred chestnuts than the 3D animated version of same, currently running at a Regal Cinema near you (which promises characters nearly as lifelike in their attributes as... actual actors. You see where I'm going with this).
Portland Center Stage returns to Mead Hunter's adaptation for the third consecutive year, but changes in direction (Rose Riordan's at the helm) and casting make the production feel... well, "fresh" is too strong a word, but at least it's not a carbon copy of last year. The most noteworthy change is in Ebbe Roe Smith's portrayal of Scrooge—his is a far more intelligent performance than the one given by last year's mopey lead. Smith sneers his character's signature humbugs with truly misanthropic zeal, in an entertainingly cranky performance that stays just the right side of goofy.
PCS' big, mushy production can't really be faulted—sure, some of the dialogue is muddy, the staging feels cramped, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is just a guy in a ski mask—but the songs are heartwarming, the moral lessons are clear, and fake snow falls on the audience at the end. That's all anyone really wants for Christmas, right? And with A Christmas Carol, that's exactly what you'll get.