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Theater Reviews: Yo Ho Ho! A Pirate's Christmas, It's a Stevie Wonderful Life!

Inspecting Carol
Doug Engalla

GROUNDLINGS HOLIDAY SHOW This evening of sketch comedy contains a bit of everything, from basic improvisations and Christmas-themed materials to sexually explicit physical comedy and gross-out humor, featuring regurgitation, urination and spit-ups. Shaved-headed Jim Rush demonstrates the transformative power of wigs in several sketches, including “Body Good,” in which he plays a skinny 15-year-old boy encountering a sexually predatory nutritionist (Rachel Ramas). In “Blu-Ray Christmas,” he’s an electronics salesman besieged by a pair of sex- and dance-crazed customers (Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone), who graphically try to barter their bodies for a DVD player. McCarthy, equally adept at broad physical comedy and dry wit, provides one of the funnier performances as a lovelorn office worker who asks audience members for romantic advice — and castigates them fiercely when it produces disastrous results. In “Drive Thru,” Rush finds his car invaded by a homeless trio (David Hoffman, Falcone and McCarthy) as he tries to order at a fast-food restaurant. And in “The Real Santa,” Hoffman hovers on the edge of obscenity/pornography as a young father, soused on vodka, who attempts to set up the kids’ Santa Claus while wearing only ripped jockey shorts and a Santa hat. The Groundlings Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. Closed, but for other Groundlings shows, call (323) 934-4747. (Neal Weaver)

INSPECTING CAROL Written by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Company, this 1992 farce pokes fun at Dickens’ Christmas classic while lampooning a small theater company’s desperate efforts of to stay afloat. Zorah (Kady Douglas), the group’s high-strung and self-important artistic director, is staging the umpteenth annual production of A Christmas Carol. Undermining her efforts is a rebellious actor named Larry (Larry Eisenberg), who wants to inject left-wing ideology into the script. The comedy intensifies  after company members mistake a very bad wannabe actor named Wayne (Doug Haverty) for an NEA inspector, and obsequiously grant him free rein to rewrite and refashion the production to his taste. Anyone familiar with the often obstreperous climate within a small arts organization will relish  numerous elements of this satire, although jokes stemming from Zorah’s casting of a token African-American are outdated. Co-directed by Judith E. and Chris Winfield, this production is hampered by a preponderance of lackluster performances and less than razor-sharp timing, yet some humor still emerges. Especially funny are the reenactments of Scrooge’s confrontations with his ghosts, wherein a neophyte actor (Disraeli Ellison) playing all the spirits freezes up, and Scrooge (Eisenberg) must improvise his way out of the morass. Well-cast as the company provocateur, Eisenberg steals the show in this riff. Fox Carney is also solid as the down-to-earth company accountant surrounded by temperamental “artists.” Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through January 11. (818) 700-4878 or www.lcgrt.com. (Deborah Klugman)

GO  IT’S A STEVIE WONDERFUL LIFE! Ahh, remember the 1970s? When Stevie Wonder was undisputed champ of the pop and R&B charts? When broadcasts of Frank Capra’s copyright-orphaned It’s a Wonderful Life blanketed the late-night holiday schedules of independent TV stations across the UHF spectrum? (Remember independent TV stations?) Those master metaparodists at the Troubadour Theatre Company commemorate both Wonders in this genre-twisting musical lampoon. Director Matt Walker has updated the more topical gags in this show, originally staged in 2003, while remaining faithful to the original production’s winning blend of broad caricature, knockabout clowning and comically inspired production numbers, all scored to the Wonder songbook (albeit with the group’s cleverly reworked lyrics). Wonder’s anachronistic, ultra-urban sound brilliantly places Capra’s white, middle-American melodramatics in high satiric relief. Doubling as the evening’s MC and its hapless hero, George Bailey, Walker sets the comic pace with a wickedly funny impersonation of Jimmy Stewart’s signature Midwestern Everyman, in a vintage Afro wig. Equally fine are Erin Matthews as George’s wide-eyed love interest, Mary; and Jen Seifert, whose sexually overcharged Violet makes Gloria Grahame’s town tramp look like a nun. Nearly stealing the show, however, is Morgan Russler’s Mr. Potter, with his dead-on skewering of Lionel Barrymore’s growled scene chewing. The house band faithfully renders Wonder’s soulful melodies, while the company retains enough Capra corn to jerk tears, as well as laughs, alongside the maestro. Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7 p.m.; through January 4. (818) 955-8101. Troubadour Theatre Company. (Bill Raden)

GO  YO HO HO! A PIRATE’S CHRISTMAS In this jolly kids’ Christmas musical by Scott DeTurk and James J. Mellon, a band of pirates raids the North Pole! Will they force Santa to walk the plank? Will they keelhaul Rudolph for playing reindeer games? Not to worry: Somali warlords with machine guns, these pirates ain’t. Rather, they are genial privateers of the “arr” and “blistering barnacles!” school. Swashbucklin’ pirate Captain Black-Eyed Johnny (charismatic Rob Arbogast, bearing an almost eerie resemblance to Patrick Swayze) and his mischievous pirate band arrive at the South Pole and steal all Santa’s presents, kidnapping Mrs. Claus (Bonnie MacBird) for good measure. It’s up to an intrepid little girl (the role is multicast, Daisy Bishop on the night reviewed) to save the day. Mellon and DeTurk’s sweet, boisterous musical is charming, briskly executed fun, with an innocent yet good-humored sensibility that’s perfect for the very young. Much of the show depends on the energy of the audience, which constantly interacts with the performers in the style of a British pantomime. The songs are energetic, and some, such as the crowd-pleasing sea shanty “Sail On,” have some strikingly sophisticated harmonies. The ensemble enacts the daffy material with absolute commitment, including hilariously mugging turns offered by the pirates in supporting roles. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through December 28. (800) 988-4235. NoHo Arts Center Ensemble. (Paul Birchall)