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STAGE REVIEW : A Jarring Note in Yule Musical Titled 'Humbug!'

December 11, 1987|DON SHIRLEY

Even in Ebenezer Scrooge's most dire visions, he never imagined that his story would be told to the accompaniment of synthesizer music. Yet that's what has happened in "Humbug!," a musical version of "A Christmas Carol" at Actors Alley.

The script, an adaptation of Dickens by Arthur Hamilton and director Jordan Charney respects the original period--to the extent that the fussier verbiage occasionally trips rather than flows off the tongues of the less vocally adept actors. Paul Jan Paul's costumes are from the 19th Century.

So what is all this thumping we hear? It's the score--a melange of jingles and jangles, disco and rap, the mellow and the mixed-up--written by Hamilton, Bob Caine and Barry Fasman and studio-produced by Fasman.

The juxtaposition of styles is so jarring that maybe it's supposed to be funny. In fact, one number for male quartet--"The End of Ebenezer"-- is mildly amusing; perhaps there's a kernel of potential within this cockeyed notion of combining the antique and the antic. But then "The End of Ebenezer" isn't typical of the score, for it relies on smoothly sung vocal harmonies.

For the most part, it's hard to be moved or amused by "Humbug!" Just when you want to sink into Dickensian textures, along comes another blast of the tinniest, tawdriest 1980s sounds, complete with lyrics that too often stop just short of rhyme or reason.

The performers gamely try to cross the chasm between centuries. Two of them, composer Caine as Scrooge and musical director/vocal arranger Gordon McManus as Bob Cratchit, fare especially well, perhaps because they helped create that chasm and know what they were trying to accomplish.

The brown, spare set fails to transport us to Christmas in 1843--which isn't surprising, as it was adapted from the set for "Paradise Ghetto," a play about a Nazi concentration camp.

Performances are at 4334 Van Nuys Blvd., Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., through Dec. 22. Tickets: $10-$12; (818) 986-2278.

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