A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Holiday Productions, at New Trier West Center, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Drury Lane Oakbrook. Sometimes I wish someone would drive a stake of holly through the heart of this holiday perennial. But evidently I’m in the minority, since every year ever more Carols appear, all vying for at least part of the audience that packs the Goodman each December to see its take on Scrooge’s wild night. But so far not one has equaled that production’s scope and power–not to mention its budget. Holiday Productions comes closest, with a live orchestra, full children’s choir, and A and B casts–but not all that close.

There are too many indifferent performances for the show to be truly excellent. Gary Houston in particular is strangely distant and uninvolved as Scrooge, reminding one more of the actor’s takes on Gulliver and George Pullman in the mid-90s than of other Scrooges. Scrooge’s nephew, woodenly played by Kelly D. Cooper, seems no more in the Christmas spirit than his emotionally numbed uncle. Happily, the actors playing the three Christmas ghosts get into their parts, especially Daniel Allar, whose hale and hearty Christmas Present put me more in the holiday spirit than anything the newly jovial Scrooge or blessing-bestowing Tiny Tim could come up with at the end.

More laughable is the Drury Lane version of Dickens’s tale, written with kids in mind: Ray Frewen’s adaptation aims simultaneously too high and too low. He retains too much of Dickens’s long-winded dialogue–boring even for us TV-ruined adults–while his cast show their utter contempt for kids’ intelligence by overplaying every beat and making every note in this Carol false.

Now where did I put that holly stake?