& & by Michael Bowen, Sara Edlin-Marlowe and Sheri Boggs & & & &

It's funny how, once we've taken on all the so-called trappings of adulthood -- car payments, steady jobs and sensible bedtimes -- we greet the holidays with the same kind of diminished expectations we reserve for things like therapy appointments and blind dates. Sometimes, however, we're taken by surprise. We'll catch It's a Wonderful Life on cable or be momentarily awed by all the lights and color of a department store display. And for a moment, you'll have it back -- that childish, delicious delight you once felt about the holidays. It's one of the reasons we turn to the same beloved stories year after year -- A Christmas Carol, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, It's a Wonderful Life, as well as child-pleasers like Annie -- that are a huge part of our childhood memories and our pop cultural heritage as well. This year, the local theater scene might be the very place you discover your holiday spirit anew, as they offer these familiar stories and more.

Also, be sure not to miss some of the less-holiday oriented fare this season, notably Interplayers' production of Arsenic and Old Lace, the SFCC production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and WestCoast Entertainment's six day engagement of Ragtime. Pick up our Nov. 30 edition for a review of Arsenic and Old Lace and a preview of Ragtime.

& & A Very Special Christmas Special & & & &

If your gag reflex kicks in whenever a holiday show is described as "heartwarming," then the sardonic humor of the latest improvisational extravaganza at the Blue Door Theatre is probably your cup of eggnog. Unexpected Productions has given this "cure for all holiday-related depression" the title of A Very Special Christmas Special and promises "a very special look at a very special holiday." The premise of one scene, for example, involves a three-headed wise man. In the hands of these experienced comedians, that ought to lead to some real, well, myrrth.

Anyway, Jason Frederick -- a member of the comedy troupe and director for this show -- mentions that the foursome will take on some additional challenges this time around. Their Halloween show, Give Me Something Good To Eat, "had three scripted scenes as well as scripted transitions," he explains. "This show is scripted in the transitions only. All scenes will be improvised. We do have a collection of scene types which will be determined prior to the performance, but the actual scenes will all come from audience suggestions."

Frederick, who played "Pumpkin Boy" in the Halloween show (along with several other roles), even answers your queries about the logistics of improv preparation: just prior to a show, he reports, "we do a number of verbal warm-ups that include one-word-at-a-time storytelling and team limericks."

Pumpkin Boy will be joined onstage by Lawra Gosselin-Harris, Jeremy Richards and Mark Robbins. This quartet of improv artists promises to take your shouted suggestions and turn them into heartfelt portrayals of the profound emotions we all feel at Yuletide. (Sloppy, inebriated dejection about the meaninglessness of our lives? Anxiety over the fruitcake?)

How very special. & & --M.B. & &

& & & lt;i & Shows begin Saturday, Nov. 25, and continue on Friday nights only, Dec. 1-22, at 8 pm. Enter the Blue Door Theatre via the alley just off Monroe near First Avenue. Tickets: $5. Call 747-7045. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

& & A Wonderful Life & & & &

Angels will be earning their wings and the Buffalo Girls will be coming out tonight if you attend A Wonderful Life, the Christmas offering at the Spokane Civic Theatre main stage. This, of course, is the musical version of Frank Capra's 1946 movie of virtually identical name. The show was created by a pair with solid credentials: the book and lyrics are by Sheldon Harnick, who also penned Fiddler on the Roof, and the music was written by Joe Raposo, the longtime musical director of Sesame Street.

In the movie, as we all know from network TV, George Bailey dreams of life beyond Bedford Falls, but finds himself on this particular Christmas Eve despondent over a misplaced $8,000 loan from the nefarious Mr. Potter. Kevin Partridge takes on the challenge of playing the central Jimmy Stewart role.

"I never realized what an over-achiever George Bailey is," says Partridge. "In the second act, because he is so sensitive to other people, he is completely drained. One minute he is depressed, then excited, then suicidal, and finally enlightened and content."

In response to the predictable questions about whether he'll essay an imitation of Stewart, the soft-spoken young man says that "I've just tried to make George my own, just as Jimmy Stewart did. Everyone has a little George Bailey inside. There will always be men and women who have it all but don't know it. That's why his spirit is tireless."

The score includes 23 songs, highlighted by Mary Bailey's solo, "I Couldn't Be With Anyone But You." Following in the footsteps of Donna Reed, who played Jimmy Stewart's wife over a half a century ago, is Christine Clayburg. A weathercaster at KHQ-TV and soon on her way to a similar job in Boston, Clayburg claims that acting is merely a hobby.

She only gets to practice her vocalizing during breaks at work, when she "sings Stormy Weather in front of the weather wall, just to annoy our production crew." Her character's big solo "has some decent high notes, and much of it is sung while I'm sitting on a bed," making those high notes difficult. In addition, she remarks, the song represents "really a very intimate moment between George and Mary," relatively easy to portray if in close-up, but difficult to project to the back row of a theater.

Jerry Sciarrio plays Clarence, the guardian angel who tumbles quite literally out of heaven and into George Bailey's life, eventually demonstrating to our hero how valuable his life has been. Barry MacConnell assumes Lionel Barrymore's role of the villainous banker.

Phil Mitchell directs the production, which reportedly has the largest cast ever assembled at the Civic, requiring more than 100 costumes spanning three decades (with credit to Dee Finan and Susan Berger). Musical direction is by Gary Laing, and the dance sequences were guided by Janet Wilder. Peter Hardie and Nik Adams did the set design. & & --M.B. & &

& & & lt;i & A Wonderful Life is at the Civic through Dec. 16. Curtain is at 8 pm, with four Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Tickets: $10-$17. Call: 325-2507. See Michael Bowen's full review on page 23. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

& & The Best Christmas Pageant Ever & & & &

If you've ever had to put up with those other parents' bratty kids during a local Christmas pageant, then Valley Repertory Theatre's upcoming spoof may help you get past the experience. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever introduces us to the delightful Herdman children -- Ollie, Ima Jean, Ralph, Gladys, et al. -- who have never even heard of the Baby Jesus and don't particularly care.

The plot involves a beleaguered mother who has to pinch-hit after the regular pageant coordinator has an accident -- and let's just say that the rehearsals do not run smoothly. Barbara Robinson's comedy was very well received when it was last done at VRT in 1994. The production is intended especially for children, so all seats are specially priced at only $5. Michelle Geller-Reynolds co-directs with Artistic Director Jodine Watson. & & --M.B. & &

& & & lt;i & The Best Christmas Pageant Ever runs Dec. 1-23, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, at the Valley Repertory Theatre, corner of Sprague and Pines. Tickets: $5. Call: 927-6878. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

& & A Christmas Cabaret & & & &

The Box 'n' Hat Players, the Civic Theatre's production company for young people ages 11-18, presents their holiday show, A Christmas Cabaret on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 7 pm on the Main Stage. Directed by Jean Hardie with musical direction by Gary Laing, the Christmas Cabaret is a holiday-themed revue suitable for the whole family. & & --S.B. & &

& & & lt;i & The Box 'n' Hat players present A Christmas Cabaret on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 7 pm. Admission is free. Call: 325-2507. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

& & A Christmas Carol & & & &

The Spokane Theatrical Group, which wowed us earlier this year with Grease, returns to take on Dickens' much-loved tale of a bitter, crabbed old man redeemed by four ghostly visitations. Troy Nickerson directs this drama, which sticks close to the original. Patrick Treadway, fresh from his hilarious performance in Crimea River, plays the miser to beat all misers, Scrooge, in a cast which also includes Mary Starky and David Gigler. (Watch for our full-length preview in an upcoming Inlander.) & & --S.B. & &

& & & lt;i & A Christmas Carol plays at The Met, Dec. 14-17, at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday with 2 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets: $12; $7 students and seniors. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

& & & lt;i & A Christmas Carol: Scrooge & amp; Marley & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

Express Theatre Northwest, in cooperation with the Revelers Drama Club at Spokane Falls Community College, presents A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley written by Israel Horovitz. This adaptation of Charles Dickens' best-loved story has the eccentric characters, the soaring language and timeless message of the original. Playwright Horovitz has adapted this version straight from the Dickens story with very few changes. He has been true to the one whom he calls "The Master." With Horovitz's special touch, this production is guaranteed to transport you to London in the mid-1800s.

Directed by Joan Malone, the show stars Jenny Cantrall as Scrooge and Lyle Freeman as Marley. They are supported by a very talented ensemble of 35 community people. & & --S.E. & &

& & & lt;i & A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley runs at Spartan Theatre, Spokane Falls Community College (Bldg. # 5 ), Dec. 14-16 and Dec. 19-22 at 7:30 pm. One matinee on Dec. 17 at 2 pm. Tickets: $10 for adults; $5 for children under 12. Call: 624-8073. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

& & Scrambled McManus & amp; Potts' Luck & & & &

Area actor Tim Behrens has found a rewarding niche in playing hugely popular area writer, Pat McManus. This year, he presents two shows based on McManus' outdoor and memoir essays. In Scrambled McManus, Behrens brings together some of McManus' most well-known tales, including "My First Deer" and "The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw," playing all the roles with a minimalist set that consists of four props and six stools.

Potts' Luck has been revamped for this year's show and has Behrens playing McManus on the set of his new TV show. The audience even gets to play along, taking their cue from the flashing "on air" sign onstage. McManus will be signing copies of his books at both shows. & & --S.B. & &

& & & lt;i & Potts' Luck plays at The Met on Friday, Dec. 8, at 8 pm. Scrambled McManus is at The Met on Saturday, Dec. 9, at 8 pm. Tickets: $14; $7 for kids 12 and under. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

& & Nuncrackers & & & &

The Little Sisters of Hoboken are back. In fact, Nuncrackers is happening right now at the Sixth Street Melodrama in Wallace, Idaho. In this holiday romp, the Sisters are attempting to produce a Christmas program for the local public access cable channel in their basement turned studio. By the way, the money for this studio came from the Publisher's Clearing House drawing (which they won in the original Nunsense).

Along with some not-too-traditional Christmas tunes, there are the usual disasters and jokes; Sister Julia, Child of God; the dancing Nun-Ballerina; Sister Amnesia; and an offbeat Christmas fruitcake.

Alas, most of the performances have already taken place, but additional shows remain. & & -- S.E. & &

& & & lt;i & Nuncrackers plays Dec. 14-16 at 7 pm with the final show on Sunday, December 17 at 2 pm, at the Sixth Street Melodrama, 212, Sixth Street in Wallace, Idaho. Tickets: $13; $11 seniors and children. Call: (208) 752-1261. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

Spokane River Clean-Up @ Downtown Spokane

Sat., Sept. 26, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
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