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Get into the spirit: ACT Theatre's 'A Christmas Carol'

act-achristmascarol_195_copy_21Trying as I always do to keep this holiday season from running off the rails, I asked my two kids to name the two holiday shows they just can't miss. I'm as guilty as the next mom of trying to do too much this time of year, and I love live theater, live music, live out-and-about anything and everything; my kids do, too.

Still, this year, I want a few quiet evenings thrown into the mix, so I posed the question. With a world of twirling snowflakes, santa cruises and tap-dancing elves to choose from, the kids - ages 11 and 14 - didn't hesitate to answer, and it was unanimous: ACT Theatre's 'A Christmas Carol.'

If you've never seen this long-running (35 years!) production, this is a fine year to start. Sean Griffin's Scrooge is delightfully nasty; greed personified, with a patrician visage and a downright black heart. His cowering clark Bob Cratchit (Alban Dennis) is excellent; by turns trembling and submissive, hopeful and undefeated. The fine cast - composed of veteran local actors and a few newcomers - is sharp and right on the money, with nary a waver or a foot put wrong during several lively dance numbers.

But what makes this show my kids' number-one fave is the spookiness of it all. This is, after all, a ghost story, and a scary one, at that. When Marley's ghost comes shrieking out onto the stage, more than one little kid in the audience shrieked right along with him; several lasted less than 10 minutes before having to leave. Just like Dickens' masterpiece, this is a redemption story, but to get to the other side, Scrooge must first endure multiple hauntings and troubling images, like the death of a disabled child and his own open grave.

I love the inventiveness of ACT's staging, and the compact and lovely little theater-in-the-round makes this an intimate and thoroughly engaging production. Take your kids to see this show - yes! do! - if they are about 8 years old or older. If they're younger, get a sitter and go without them. With carolers in the Christmas-bough-draped lobby and a cup of something warming in hand, you'll find yourself relaxing right into the holiday spirit.

'A Christmas Carol' runs through December 26. Tickets $22-$47 with discounts for children.

Oh - in case you're wondering, my kids' number-two choice for holiday must-sees: viewing the lights at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens. It's free!

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