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When want is keenly felt

A theatrical variety show reminiscent of Christmas television specials of the '60s and '70s, with an obscure adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," are set for "It's a Jolly Holiday" at Randall Theatre. And, in the spirit of the holiday, Randall Theatre is offering "pay-what-you-can" admission at the door.

"There are many similarities between now and Victorian England," says Robin Downward, who directs the show. "People are out of work and strapped financially."

Downward and his company of local performers will present traditional holiday tunes, skits, a satiric reading of " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and a one-act version of "A Christmas Carol" at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16; 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17; 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18; 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 21-22; and 1 and 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23, at the community theater, 10 E. Third St., Medford.

"Rather than mount a full production, I wanted to create a variety show that would create the same feeling I had when my brothers and sisters and I were younger, and we'd put on little Christmas shows for the family," Downward says. "We had so much fun. The memories bring the spirit of Christmas back to me."

Downward and his family also loved watching holiday specials hosted by such television personalities as Perry Como, The Osmond Family, Andy Williams, Johnny Carson and The Muppets.

"There aren't many of those shows left," he says. "So the first act is dedicated to my family and to the times when TV featured Christmas-themed variety shows."

Look for small musical acts and holiday skits, such as Downward singing "Believe" from "The Polar Express" and "Jolly Holiday" from the musical "Mary Poppins." David Eisenberg will sing Harry Connick Jr.'s "Must Have Been Old Santa Claus," and Emii Pahl of St. Mary's School will perform "Blue Christmas," a song made popular by Elvis Presley.

Brett and Cindi Garrett will present a performance-art piece about a soldier leaving for the Middle East. The piece includes three songs performed by Brett Garrett on acoustic guitar and an original story written by Cindi Garrett. Rick Hazen, a local visual artist, will present " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" a la British comedy troupe Monty Python.

The one-act version of "A Christmas Carol," adapted by an anonymous author, will be presented during the second act.

"It's almost like a Christmas gift," Downward says. "It came from an anonymous source for our enjoyment."

David Rowley plays Ebenezer Scrooge, and Krystal Brewer, Brian McCready, Eisenberg, Pahl and the Garretts play multiple characters in the classic story.

"Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' is not a long book," Downward says. "Movies take a lot of liberties with the story and with its original intent. It's easy to make the story cliché with too little about the deeply rooted meaning.

"At the core of the story is a man who needs redemption, a man who's lost his way from such values as love, kindness and caring. We worked on our production to get back to the true message: Money is not everything.

"There really is no difference between the suffering that the story's characters are going through and what people today deal with on a day-to-day basis. A good economy, jobs, feeding our children, being loved and living a life without regret are things we all desire."

See www.randalltheatre.com.

Local actor David J. Rowley plays Ebenezer Scrooge in Randall Theatre's 'It's A Jolly Holiday.' - Photo by Jamie Lusch